August 9, 2005, 8:00 P.M.
A Failure to Communicate:
The City Council, on itís own, is now planning a study of the soils under the Middle School in order to determine if a school can be built there. Did anyone bother to ask if one had ever been done before?
It is at this point that the failure of the council and the school board to effectively communicate is costing us all money, and causing unnecessary strife. When I was elected to the school Board in 1997, I came to office stressing a need for a healthy and constructive dialogue between the council and the board. The result, I think, was the completion of the elementary renovations, the adoption of realistic budgets, teacher retention, increased test scores, computerization of the schools etc. These things were accomplished because a lot of well meaning people on both sides of the issues talked and, perhaps more importantly, listened. That is not happening right now, and the city, its residents and itís future will all suffer.
There are a lot of questions about the school projects, but there have also been hundred of volunteer hours and professional hours put into assessing the state of the Middle and High School buildings. If there remain questions about the feasibility of building on the Middle school site, the first place to look is not to a new study, but to the existing data and to the people who have worked on these projects for the last 6 or 7 years. That is unless, of course, the only reason for the new study is to try to get someone to tell you whatever it is that you want to hear.
This discussion needs to get ratcheted back to a place where facts can be assessed and discussed absent agendas and preconceived notions. Most of all, we need to get back to some basic level of trust. In my experience, there are passionate personalities on all sides of the discussion about building schools, and the issue is sure to dominate city politics this fall. What I canít get my mind around is the idea that good people are, because they disagree with you, not to be trusted. If the Parade road site canít stand scrutiny, so be it, but to suggest that advocates for the relocation of the schools are somehow being deceptive about the districts needs or about the state of the existing schools is an unnecessary and counterproductive exercise.
What we need here may well be a further and more in depth look at the reconstruction costs of the current buildings. I am convinced, although many others are not, that the cost of trying to renovate the existing buildings will prove to be too high. I donít think we need another study to demonstrate this fact but we do need to communicate it better.
In the past we formed a liaison committee to discuss issues of mutual concern between the school district and the city. What we need is another joint, city/school facility committee to analyze existing data about city buildings, including the schools and to update the existing facility study. The school District is responsible for the School Buildings, but the city council must be brought on board if any improvements are to be accomplished. I am convinced that the need for replacement of the majority of the high school buildings and the entire Middle Scholl, whether on site or at a different location, will stand scrutiny because I know the nature and extent of the work that went into the original decision. I also donít want to loose sight of the fact that there are still issues with other city buildings and those canít be overlooked.
Right now there is not a lot of dialogue amongst our city officials and some may suggest that this signals a win for some faction or the other. What it really signals is a loss for all of us. The current failure to communicate is only going to get worse, and the real facts are getting lost in the fray. The mayor and the city council have to show leadership and to listen as well as they talk. To suggest that the council conduct its own study of school facilities clearly says that the council does not trust the work of the citizens (and taxpayers) who have worked countless hours on the assessment of the schools and on the development of solutions. On the other hand, knowing what I know, I recognize that I will have difficulty with the credibility of any city study that is commissioned without the advise or consent of the school board or its committee representatives, myself included. Mistrust only breeds distrust. This will only get worse unless we all take a step back, listen., talk, and plan an approach that will produce an outcome that we can all trust. Otherwise, our failure to communicate will cost us all in the long run.