school planning and educational promise

I can’t remember any school bond or budget that I’ve not supported. I don’t know if that qualifies me as liberal or an overzealous advocate of education, but in any case it’s an indication of my leanings. The Ogden School District bond proposal currently on my mail-in ballot is the first that I’ve ever considered voting against.

I’m conflicted. Children should learn in comfort and safety. We should fund basic needs and assure that there are adequate facilities. The bond would create and renew spaces and at no change in what I contribute in property taxes — I take officials at their word on this point.

However, many point out that we’re abandoning old buildings in favor of schools that are larger, no longer our small local gathering points. Children will travel beyond traditional boundaries to looming structures with more students and staff. People worry about traffic, property values, or strains on family. And, there’s affront to our fond memories associated with buildings being replaced.

In my own neighborhood, we have angst about Polk Elementary, recognizing how completely the neighborhood school could be erased. My neighbors point to an iconic role of Polk, highlighting its architecture and history. Looking at restorations we’ve done in the past — like those of Ogden High School — we’re left to wonder why individual school rebuilds and upgrades aren’t considered for this next wave of improvements.

Yet, for me, all of these considerations are secondary. If there’s evidence and rationale that a new school will provide a better learning experience for our children — our community’s future — gently remove the old gargoyles from the overhanging facades and raze the structure to the ground. Hand me a sledgehammer and I will do my part. I’ll miss the neighborhood school that my children grew up and learned in, but I’ll celebrate the new opportunities and a better education for future students offered by the replacement.

The problem is, I do not see this rationale. How is bigger better? To me, this isn’t just about construction projects. It’s about the educational practices and goals of our district. The Board has described how facilities will improve, but not how learning will be bettered. Moreover, they’re proposing new facilities that reflect new missions. “Professional gateway centers” and larger elementary schools are not merely physical structures but new purposes for education. The reason I’m conflicted is that I haven’t witnessed any conversation about this change in mission, nor on why these facilities are better beyond cost savings and newer infrastructure. Schools are more than buildings. They are sacred spaces where teaching and learning are enacted, and we are being asked to fundamentally change that experience.

I’m still unsure how I’ll vote on this bond initiative, but I’m hopeful that this can be a start of more open conversations about our schools’ purposes and practices. We need to consider not only the tax dollars and building footprints, but the important planning about what our educational system does for our children and community.