Of Better Bonds and Unicorns Pt. 1

If only Phil Hemingway and Chris Liebig had been on the school board when the GO Bond proposal up for a vote tomorrow (Tuesday, September 12th) had been written.  If that were the case, then the energy they’ve spent writing blog posts and editorials criticizing the Bond proposal could have been spent improving it.  Even if their ideas hadn’t swayed the other board members, they could have at least presented these ideas in public meetings, perhaps even early enough that they could have gathered public support for those ideas and used that support to sway their fellow board members.

Oh, wait…They were.  And they didn’t.

Despite his longtime support for it, and despite multiple opportunities, Director Hemingway did not advocate for Bond language specifying funding for facilities to support vocational and technical education.  And, despite his claims that the lack of language specifying support for special education facilities was a deciding factor in his refusal to back the policy that his Board voted to adopt, Director Hemingway also failed to propose this.

Similarly, Director Liebig has argued that the size of the current bond is due to the district’s “brush off culture” and that the board had missed an opportunity to offer the community a series of smaller bonds. Such an argument would be more convincing to attentive voters if he’d actually proposed a smaller bond rather than just writing a blog post about it.

Fortunately, the facilities created under the bond will make it possible for the District to pursue on-campus technical and vocational education at all three high schools, in conjunction with the resources available at the Kirkwood Regional Center.  Also, fortunately, as former special education teacher and current school board candidate JP Claussen has pointed out, the extra classroom space created by the bond-funded renovations will give special education teachers increased flexibility in serving their students.  And, the excellent special education facilities at Liberty High show that the lack of  specific bond language doesn’t have to be a barrier to the creation of facilities that serve special education students.

Regarding the bond however, we have just the one proposal to say Yes or No to.  And, as Michael Tilley points out, a “No” is unlikely to yield a new and “better” quickly enough to keep from disrupting the FMP timeline and costing the district millions of dollars.  I’ll have more on the disparate and contradictory rationales that Vote No advocates cite in their rationales, and on the realistic prospects of successfully and transparently mounting a new bond in 6 months, later today.  But for now, I want to turn to something I’ve been thinking about for a while regarding Directors Liebig and Hemingway.

I attended the board meeting where the final discussion of the bond proposal took place.  During that debate, neither Hemingway nor Liebig voiced a reason for not voting for the proposed Bond formulation except that they thought it was too big and wouldn’t pass.  This is a legitimate concern.  But, if their overall worry was truly that the bond wouldn’t pass and the projects it supported would be endangered, then their decision to make passage even less secure by not signing on to a proposal that they knew the majority of the board supported makes little sense.

This is purely speculation, but it’s almost as if these two longtime Save Hoover advocates had a different reason for not wanting their fingerprints on a Bond proposal that they never intended to vote for. Perhaps they’re willing to put the fate of one aging building in the way of better learning conditions for students and better working conditions for teachers, but they just didn’t want to make that clear to voters.


Yes, it is a big deal if the GO Bond doesn’t pass.

There are folks in our community who are very busy assuring us that it’s no big deal if the upcoming GO Bond that funds the last half of the Facilities Master Plan doesn’t pass. Tom Carsner’s letter in the Press Citizen is one example. I’ve run into numerous others on social media.  Many (not all) who say this seem to have only recently engaged with school district issues, and most cite the technically true fact that a new and supposedly better) Bond could be put up as soon as 6 months after this one.  Michael Tilley has been following the development and execution of the Facilities Master Plan closely for a long time.  He’s written a post gaming out the probable outcomes of a failed Bond (spoiler, they aren’t good!), including why it would likely take much longer, and what the consequences of a delay of whatever length would be.

Michael’s post is thorough and instructive.  I just want to add a few thoughts to build on it.

  • The point I’d most like people, including Vote No advocates, to consider is the drain that reshuffling the FMP and mounting a new bond would put on the time, energy, and attention of the Board and central administration. This is a not-insignificant amount of work, particularly if it involves research to try to find out what elements need to be changed for a new bond to pass.  There will be 4 brand-new board members who will already be hitting the ground running with a host of issues to contend with, from the need for reform in Special Education, to the achievement gap between white and non-white and between affluent and poor students, to accessibility and standardization of playgrounds across the district, and more.  Many Vote No people cite their unhappiness about these issues as a reason to vote against the Bond, but voting down the bond will only ensure that the board can’t give its full attention to addressing those same issues.

    For context here, we should remember that School Board is an unpaid, volunteer position.  This means that Directors who aren’t independently wealthy (which would be all of them–which is good) have work lives (and family lives, etc.) to contend with outside of the board. I’m not saying this to generate sympathy for people who seek out this position, but to bring home the fact that there are limitations on the board’s time and energy as well as really urgent issues that need attention.

  • Many of the Vote No advocates cite a lack of transparency in board and administration decisions.  At the same time, these same people are also saying that a new plan (allowing for a re-figured list and order of projects) and a new Bond should be developed and put up for a vote in 6 months.  Think again about the impediments to such a process I noted above, and that Michael notes in greater detail, and try to imagine how it could be done with any kind of public input.  And then try to imagine how little other work could get done during that time.
  • Most Vote No advocates suggest that a “better” bond would be smaller, because that would make it more likely to pass.  That seems intuitively correct, but it isn’t necessarily so at all.  A smaller bond still has to clear 60% of the vote to pass, meaning that it’s likely to need votes from all across the District.  But by virtue of being smaller, such a bond would have a hard time including projects from all across the District.  As friend of the page Sara Barron has pointed out, we don’t have a great record of taking care of kids who aren’t our own in this district.  There are fierce geographic rivalries in play.  Even with the current bond, which balances projects in all areas pretty well, I know at least one person from the East side who is refusing to vote for it because it spends any money in the North, and several anonymous commenters on Director Liebig’s blog have argued that the bond spends too much money on the East side. This rivalry has played out poorly in school bond issues before in the district (and well, in about every other kind of issue as well) and it’s easy to imagine it doing the same here for a bond whose projects were limited to one side of the District or another.
  • The last point I’d make here is just that, while many Bond advocates argue for voting against the bond in order to “teach the District a lesson” or as a rebuke to Superintendent Murley, the real consequences will be felt by the kids and the teachers in our schools.