Opinion

School plan will boost confidence

Hooray!

Let’s applaud the Bainbridge Island School Board and members of a citizen group for working together for the betterment of our island’s public schools.

It’s been a long haul for the current board, which has been in the throes of planning a high school capital facilities bond for more than a year. They’ve attended countless meetings and pored over thousands of pages of documents. They’ve used direct mail to contact every household on the island, inviting people to join them as they discussed crowded lunch rooms, old computers, soggy sports fields and funky spaces for band practice.

And just when the board thought it was in the final stretch of decision-making to put an (estimated) $40 million school bond on the May 17 ballot: a problem. Members of the Bainbridge Resource Group started showing up at board meetings and asking tough questions. Their members expressed concern about a whole host of issues, from parking and enrollment to taxes and maintenance costs. And they wanted details, details, details – in writing – to justify the board’s goals and decisions.

The board bristled. They were already steeped in details, gleaned from piles of engineering and planning and architectural reports, as well as recommendations from several past citizen committees. But to their credit, board members remained courteous even when they weren’t always treated in kind.

At the same time, the board came to see that while they indeed have volumes of information about school construction needs, the public does not. There is no single document to hand to a voter that says, “Here is where we are now, and here is where we are going in the future. Here’s why, and this is what it will cost.”

We’re not certain what a new “master plan” for campus needs will come out looking like; it may well prove redundant with the planning that the district has done so far. The irony is that it may uncover more capital needs still; even one of the BRG’s principals conceded that the $40 million projected for new school buildings “may not be enough.”

But the master plan process and the document that it produces will serve to buttress community confidence in the capital needs of our school district, and give voters more information when the bond finally makes its way to the ballot. If the document accomplishes nothing else, it will have been worth it if it forges concensus and pushes the bond to approval.

So during a two-hour meeting Wednesday, members of the BRG and the school district staff worked together for the first time to get the work under way.

“We got very excited about the collaborative process,” said Tamela Van Winkle, the school district’s facilities project manager. “It felt right.”

And that is right, for the good of the community. Kudos to all for doing what we urge of our children: playing nicely.

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