Let me preface by saying that my family has four generations of public school teachers. We believe strongly in the value of education and supporting public schools. Still, I have grave reservations about the current bond proposal.
It is well established that we have facility issues with both inadequate space and outdated infrastructure at our elementary, middle, and high schools. However, the trustees have not committed to a comprehensive plan or clearly explained how this bond fits. To proceed without a comprehensive plan will certainly result in wasted taxpayer dollars and unacceptable results. Why would we spend $8 million on Central School to then close it when students are moved to the remodeled middle school? Why would we spend $2.7 million on Jefferson School (including a new gym) and then turn it into administrative offices? Taxpayers cannot be expected to blindly support a bond that amounts to "trust us, we know best and it will all work out.”
Secondly, there is reason to believe the administration and trustees are not being forthright with the citizenry. We have been told that this is not a consolidation plan, but the eventual result certainly will be. If the middle schools are to become elementary schools, then existing neighborhood schools will be closed. The justification for the proposal has changed numerous times, and the language of the bond allows the district to use the funds for yet a different purpose than stated.
Also ignored is the feedback from the community that neighborhood schools serve our children best. Interestingly, not many years ago the district promoted neighborhood schools as generating the best community support and parent involvement. In fact, these two factors have consistently been shown to be more important to best educational outcomes than facilities! Now the tune has changed, and we are told big 4-3 schools are better. The district seems to be chasing an educational trend rather than what is good for Helena and pursuing an agenda of its own, rather than presenting a plan to address the real issues that exist in our schools.
The answer to all of these concerns is simple. Provide the voters with a comprehensive plan. Tell us what you want to do, and why. Tell us the total cost and the cost of each phase. Give us a timeline for beginning and completion. Give the citizens of Helena due credit for all the support we have provided, and trust that we will support what is truly needed. The current proposal is both foolish and disrespectful.