Letter to the Editor: Stillwater BOLD

TO THE SCHOOL BOARD:

Thank you for listening to both district administrators and community members. I can understand the dilemma you must face: On the one hand, BOLD’s promise to save $1.26 million annually would benefit our district’s chronic budget shortfalls, and closing small schools where few students live may allow educational resources to be allocated elsewhere. But on the other hand, are we a district that makes major, community-impacting decisions in such a short amount of time without involving or engaging the support of our constituents? I find this question troubling.

Regardless of whether BOLD may benefit budgets or students, there are far greater matters at stake: the district’s partnerships with other governmental entities and the public’s trust. If you value these relationships, then please vote “no” on February 11. Listen to the mayor of Stillwater, cities of Hugo and Marine, townships of May and Baytown, and state legislators who urge you to slow down, explore other options, and engage the public. Acknowledge that the district’s long range facility plan and language surrounding the $97.5 million bond promised no school closings. Question whether the new administration, made up of so many staff members with such short tenure in our district, fully understands the impact of closing schools. It’s not rocket science: Property values will fall, the fabric that weaves community members together will unravel, and our poorest residents will—by losing their only means of transportation—take less of a role in their children’s education.

Whether or not you believe, as I do, that these consequences are the district’s responsibility, consider what such a far-reaching, rushed decision will mean for our future. Will the community support future bonds or levies when the district has violated its constituents’ trust? I think not.

Years ago, when my oldest child began school at Lily Lake, this wonderful place was bursting at the seams. Parents were asked to promote a bond for a new school, which the district said was needed to support all of the growth IN THE SOUTH. I still remember the district-provided script we used in phone banks during the mid-nineties, which read something like: “We need your support for District 834 to build a new elementary school SOUTH OF HIGHWAY 36 which will open in FALL OF 1996.” The bond passed. Déjà vu: The district did an about-face when Liberty on the Lake developers came calling. The new school was not built, as promised, south of 36, nor did it open in 1996; it was delayed another year. I felt like I had lied to all of the people I called. I suspect the parent volunteers who worked so hard to pass the recent bond feel the same way. It is one thing for the district to be untruthful, but it shouldn’t ask parents to follow suit. After the “Rutherford” debacle, the subsequent levy failed.

I’m a small business owner, and I try to follow the adage, “Under-promise and over-deliver.” When I don’t do so, I disappoint my clients. Yet, once again, the district over-promised ($97.5 million bond language and long range facilities plan) and under-delivered (proposed closing three schools). While closing schools may be a necessity, I think any savvy decision-maker would suggest that school board members vote NO now and start over. By starting over, you can involve the stakeholders at the get go, explore all options, and make the best decision together. As a dear friend of mine gleaned from a famous staff member when she worked in the White House, “If you want me to be at the landing, I have to be at the take off.” Neither community members nor governmental entities were present at the take off. Is it any surprise they’re not with you at the landing?

Finally, we’ve heard a lot about “capture rates.” What an awful term! In any event, isn’t it fair to say that, since the district hired marketing staff and invested in marketing communications, the capture rate has remained unchanged? Rather than closing schools, why not pursue a successful marketing campaign? Shouldn’t the current marketing staff members and their plans be evaluated, and—if deemed ineffective—be changed? This seems like a logical first step before something as dramatic and final as closing schools. As a communications professional, I find the marketing materials from the district to be patronizing, overly exaggerated, and not in line with reality. Does “creativity thrives here” speak truthfully when class sizes are so large? I suspect there is lots of creativity at Marine, Withrow, and Oak Park, but that defeats the BOLD proposal …

Please do what’s best for our district at this time and vote no on February 11th. If you believe the BOLD proposal has merit (which it may), ask district professionals to reconsider this plan by involving community members at the take off, exploring all options for budget reductions, evaluating the pros and cons of each option, and taking more time for a decision of this magnitude. Rutherford was delayed a year to accommodate the needs of the Liberty developers; if needed, the new school (and the BOLD proposal) can wait a year, too.

Best regards,

Kathy King

P.S. Is it humanly possible—within one year—to change boundaries (this isn’t rocket science: if community members are not at the take off and involved in boundary changes, they won’t be at the landing), move 9th graders to the high school, move 6th graders to the junior highs, move pre-K to elementary schools, move the autism and gifted-talented program, close three elementary schools, completely refashion the remaining five elementary schools to be both “open” and “traditional,” and remodel an elementary school for central services staff? The risk of failure seems high. Why not under-promise, over-deliver, and SLOW DOWN?