I’ll be posting more about the bond issue as time goes on. The one striking feature of tonight’s discussion was that the board’s proposal was based on a substantially revised set of building capacity numbers. From the time the district adopted the facilities plan in 2013 until this evening, the plan had been based on capacity numbers calculated by a consultant, BLDD, which were supposed to have been the result of careful measurements of all aspects of the buildings, rather than simply multiplying the number of rooms by a number of kids (as the district had done in the past). Tonight, we were presented with a new, very different set of building capacity numbers, also supposed to have been calculated on the basis of careful measurements and on the buildings’ intended use.
I agree that the BLDD numbers were flawed. But this new set of numbers—the final version of which we received less than twenty-four hours before tonight’s meeting—has not been vetted sufficiently to make it the basis of a $188 million dollar proposal. For one thing, we received unclear answers about whether the new numbers reflect our anticipated ability to staff the classrooms, whether they reflect the weighted resource allocation model, and whether they reflect a building’s current use. And the numbers themselves raise questions:
- Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that Alexander Elementary had a capacity of 500. In fact, as soon as the enrollment rose into the 400s, the school added two temporaries and converted three non-classroom spaces into classrooms. So the new numbers will recognize that the old numbers seriously overstated Alexander’s capacity, right? But actually they say that the addition of four classrooms will result in a 575-student capacity.
- Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district had been telling people for years that Garner Elementary had a capacity of 445 and needed a 175-seat addition to bring its capacity up to 620. The new plan deletes the seven-classroom addition and simply adds a music room and an art room—yet Garner’s “new” capacity will be 633.
- Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that South East Junior High could hold 764 students, and that it needed an addition so it could hold 854. Under the new plan, South East still gets two new classrooms, but its “new” capacity will be 750—lower than we told people it was before any addition. Now the district can justify the addition that was already in the plan before this justification was created.
- Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that Wickham Elementary’s capacity was 428. Under the new plan, Wickham gets a new art room and a new music room—and its “new” capacity will be 575.
- Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that Kirkwood Elementary’s capacity was 306, and that it needed six new classrooms so it could hold 456 students. Under the new plan, Kirkwood receives only two new classrooms, plus an art room and a music room. Yet its “new” capacity is 468—even higher than we said it would be with six new classrooms.
- Under the new capacity calculations, planned elementary capacity in the North Corridor exceeds projected enrollment by almost 400 seats—a bad sign for convincing voters that we need to spend $19 million to build a new elementary school there. I think the new elementary school is necessary—but if we ignore our capacity numbers and enrollment projections whenever we think we know better, why should voters trust them at all?
- District-wide, under the new capacity calculations, the planned elementary capacity exceeds projected enrollment by over 1600 students. But don’t worry, the administration would never propose more school closings.
Maybe the district finally has the capacity numbers right this time. But I came out of tonight’s discussion even more convinced that it’s a mistake to rely on our capacity numbers and enrollment projections to commit to additions (as opposed to renovations) too far in advance of seeing whether we actually need them.