School bond up in the air

Criticism forces the district to mull a delay for construction, but not ‘tech.’

In an effort to create “a more positive climate” for the passage of a $40 million school bond, Bainbridge schools Supt. Ken Crawford said he would support a delay in the May 17 election, if that’s what the school board wants.

But Crawford would not back any postponement of a $7.9 million technology levy, he said Monday, his first day back at work after eight weeks of sick leave.

“If a delay of the bond measure meant we could impact the current climate, which is more negative than it should be, I would support it,” Crawford said.

“What I wouldn’t support is the delay of the technology levy,” he added. “The wear and tear on buildings takes place over time, but I don’t think we should wait to broach our technology needs. We do have a master plan for technology, and a level of (public) comfort and understanding of those issues.”

There has been little criticism at public meetings of the district’s planned technology levy, which would replace the district’s aging computer systems at a ratio of one-to-one for teachers, and four-to-one for students.

But the board has come under fire at recent bond planning sessions for failing to create a “master plan” detailing exactly how a proposed $40 million capital facilities bond to renovate the aging high school would be spent.

Critics also want the board to enumerate the other school renovation and remodeling jobs that are likely in the next five to 10 years, with estimates of what those improvements will cost the taxpayers.

The message has not been lost on the administration.

“We have to appreciate the intellect and need-to-know level of interest in our community,” Crawford said. “We’d like their support, and we will work with them on these issues.”

The superintendent said he would support the creation of a master plan, but predicted it would be nearly impossible to do and still meet the deadlines for a May 17 election.

Some of the key decisions affecting the bond total – such as whether to build a performing arts center, whether to raze the Commodore building adjacent to the high school, or to construct fields with artificial turf – have yet to be made.

But a master plan for the high school and other district campuses could be completed in time for a fall election, he said, with construction at the high school beginning in 2006, as previously hoped.

Now feeling well after surgery and a period of recuperation, Crawford said he is ready to work on passage of the technology levy, and planning for the bond. He said that while he was concerned about the negative tone of some of the criticism, he believes it’s being offered in a constructive spirit.

School board members, meanwhile, have yet to consider as a group the idea of delaying the bond.

“If we can improve the process through additional planning efforts, I am willing, but I’m not yet sure we’ll have to go off deadline to achieve that,” board member Bruce Weiland said Tuesday, adding, “I can’t fault people for asking well-meaning, intelligent questions.”

Some of the criticism has come from the Bainbridge Resource Group, whose members sent a detailed letter out to island residents last week, outlining four pages of concerns about school projects which they feel have not been addressed.

Those concerns range from parking and the site of a maintenance facility, to the potential need for another elementary school and high school if enrollments increase.

The group is also concerned about funding requests from other public agencies that could total more than $72 million in coming years, and wants the school board to proceed in a “fiscally conscious manner,” according to the letter, signed by Resource Group member Bob Fortner.

“Education deserves our highest priority and we must not fail a school levy,” the letter said. “We believe it is critical that school planning carefully focus on high priority needs, and the school district must strive for balance within the context of all community stated needs.”

Patty Fielding, a member of the Resource Group with grandchildren at Blakely School, said she and her husband are “solid education supporters.” But she said the bond discussions thus far have been “worrisome.”

Now retired from a career as a facilities planner at Kaiser Permanente medical group in Northern California, Fielding has attended nearly every bond planning session since summer.

And it seemed clear to her that numerous critical issues in the realm of facilities planning have not been adequately explored.

She cited proposals for a performing arts facility at the high school as an example, noting that the seating capacity has varied from 400 to 650, with various questions remaining on staffing and funding, and its use during class time and by the public in off hours.

“These are things that should be nailed down at this point,” she said. “Nowhere have we been shown that ‘these are the options that have been explored, and that the very best plan is this one.’ If it’s not documented, it’s not done.”

Fielding said that she doesn’t want to see the bond fail.

“But $40 million is a lot of money, and it’s a different world,” she said. “I am sure the board is frustrated. We all are.”

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