An evening of faith, trust and...hope

That clatter you may have heard coming from the direction of the high school campus Thursday evening was not the crash of pads out on the football field. More likely, it was the sound of several score jaws in simultaneous plummet to the high school library floor, as Tom Hemphill urged school officials to put a $100 million construction bond before voters next year.

Was this the same Tom Hemphill who months earlier had roasted the school board for floating an $8.9 million technology levy? Our self-described Doubting Thomas?

“The two words that stand out for me are ‘faith’ and ‘trust,’” Hemphill mused Friday of his turn of support, “being able to get to know the people involved, and the faith and trust that they are honest and have integrity and are hardworking.” Not so much conversion as immersion – although, Hemphill confessed, he did enjoy just a bit the surprise in the room as he advocated a high-dollar construction bond to officials whom he has in the past viewed as spendthrifts.

For those who missed Thursday’s school board meeting, it was decided that a $45 million construction bond should go before voters early next year, to relieve overcrowding at the high school and patch up buildings district-wide. And the theme was one of renewal. Not just of sagging school facilities – they do need help – but of the school district’s relationship with the community it serves. Whatever the merits or deficiencies of the failed technology levy, that defeat still smarts. Folks at Thursday’s board meeting looked forward to a bond and levy campaign that will unite the community behind the cause of public education and our children’s future, rather than divide it with second guessing.

And there should be hope. It is hard to imagine a more rigorous and open process than that which produced the 15-year master plan for campus upgrades, clearly documenting needs and proposing prudent remedies. While the construction bond and its companion piece, a new technology levy set at $6.1 million, will rightly be subjected to more scrutiny as the vote draws nigh, critics should themselves be ready to answer a question:

If you don’t like the proposals, what is the alternative?

The school district, its experts and its volunteers have gone over these issues for months and settled on a plan of action. After a point, it comes down to trust and faith.

Ask Tom Hemphill.

“Being able to look at it a lot more carefully and see what is essential, versus what is not as essential, opened my eyes that these needs are real and greater than I’d realized, and the costs are quite a bit greater,” he said Friday. “I think even people who don’t have kids understand there is need out there, that the buildings are getting older.”

For what it’s worth, Tom won’t be pinned down yet on the new technology levy – we tried – saying that he needs to study the measure further. But where the construction bond is concerned, even our Doubting Thomas has found some faith. We think that says a lot about the integrity of the process, and the results.

Perhaps voters will be likewise moved.

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