Regarding the school district’s one facilities planning processes: I know that our school buildings are (pick all that apply) in the wrong place, too full, not full enough, out of date and not designed for supporting today’s students’ needs, etc. Clearly something needs to be done, but first we need a plan that meets our students’ needs and is likely to be funded. The problem is, the way we’re pursuing a plan and funding isn’t informing voters or building community-wide agreement about what needs to be done.

Coming in early June, Helena voters will choose (or not) an elementary facilities plan with any two of the following three attributes: good, fast or cheap. For example, we will have good schools and bring our facilities up to snuff quickly, but it will be expensive. Or, we will improve our buildings in a year or two, and do it inexpensively, but we won’t have built to last. Finally, we will have built good buildings, inexpensively, but it will have taken forever to get the job done.

How do we balance good, fast and cheap, and end up selecting the best plan for retooling all of district one’s facilities (including the high schools)? We need a better planning process, one that first engages each school's parents and neighborhoods, then after each school’s needs are understood and agreed upon by each school’s parents and community, will after further discussion combine (through understanding and compromise) to arrive at a consensus K-12 district-wide plan.

I am not arguing for or against the coming elementary facilities bond, or for or against school consolidation. I’m suggesting that with the right process, all this will sort itself out. With the right process, Helena parents, educators, and voters should be able to arrive at a workable plan.

I hope that the district, eventually, takes the time to fully engage parents and neighbors in a community wide, consensus-building process. From a process that truly engages the entire Helena community, an improved understanding of each school’s needs will develop, with hopefully a district-wide consensus plan for revitalizing school facilities. We’ll end up with what we need and want: a student-centered, fundable district-wide facilities plan.

 

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