Some random thoughts and observances on the last of the Resources for Results public hearings at Highland Hills:
* While some individual members of the committee may very well be interested in public input, anyone who believes the school system is genuinely concerned about it might have their own desk at the school. The presentation was lousy, with attendees unable to make heads or tails of information glossed over in literally five minutes. There wasn’t even time to read it quickly while the system’s man talked over top of it.
* If the maximum time spans allotted to public input during the entire three-year Resources process are added together, they amount to about seven and a half hours.
* I’ll again point out that the school system made no effort to distribute data or any other information to the public prior to any of the meetings. Apparently, the average citizen is supposed to be able to absorb three years worth of study, analyze it, and develop cogent, three minute public arguments about it in the one minute interim between the aforementioned useless presentation and the public speaking portion of the hearing. Either that, or the school system is betting on the fact that such a restrictive scenario will keep them from it. I’m betting on the latter. It was insulting enough that the school system’s printed warnings against the use of profanity became quickly relevant.
* According to Kathy Ayres, the enrollment numbers presented on slide 8 of the school system’s show don’t match the enrollment numbers provided by either the state’s Department of Education or the school system’s capital projects list. There are discrepancies as large as 275 students.
* A Silver Street teacher pointed out that, if one does the math, the magic 300 enrollment number used as a cut off by the school system for it’s ciphering does not actually reflect optimum class size. It should be lower.
* If my sources are correct, only one “hill” parent spoke during any of the three hearings and no one spoke in favor of closing schools. If public input is given as much weight as the school system claims it is, neither the committee nor Dr. Brooks has sufficient impetus to close a school.
* Walking into Highland Hills Middle School for the first time, I immediately realized why parents who spend any time there would think our tax dollars are being wasted. If we can afford to build that, there’s no justifiable reason to be talking about closing schools.
What I said in my three minutes, before the last paragraph was cut off by the school system’s director of communication, whose title is an obvious misnomer:
I know the Resources for Results Committee has put in a tremendous amount of time examining the questions put before it, even if public and other outside input has been severely limited. As a result, I’m not here tonight as a city resident to rehash the many solid arguments already put forth by my peers concerning the benefits of walkable, neighborhood schools and their positive impact on urban communities. I know the committee has heard them and trust that they, as stewards of our common future, will take them seriously enough to grant them the further exploration and discussion they deserve as they consider their recommendations.
I am here tonight, though, to show solidarity with those county residents whose rural lifestyles are being taken from them. As many of us in the city have worked tirelessly to inject new life, investment, and increased residency into our neighborhoods – only to end up feeling threatened by lack of acknowledgment from the school system and closed-door discussions – I realize that same pattern has been repeated in outlying areas – only in reverse.
There is a growing movement in outlying areas of Floyd County to protect the rural lifestyle that attracted many residents to them in the first place. As residents have become more active in pursuing limits to unchecked growth and the fiscal and environmental damage it causes, county government has responded with a master plan designed to guide and control it. Such actions are essential to maintaining both the character and sustainability of the area and provide a good example of what can happen when citizens and governmental institutions cooperate.
Unfortunately, those good works in the city and county have yet to be reflected in school system policy. While city residents and government attempt to increase growth in the city by investing in infrastructure improvements, business development, and urban amenities, the school system has focused its investments in outlying areas, hampering those efforts. At the same time, while county residents and government seek to reign in massive developments and set land use standards, the school system has thrown open the gates by favoring the expansion of rural schools, even going so far as to overbuild past their own demographic projections, encouraging the further suburbanization of the Knobs.
In both cases, our tax dollars are being pitted against each other, being used to pursue conflicting outcomes. That can’t possibly be the most efficient use of resources.
The good news is that those city and county residents share common goals—more development in the urban city and less in the rural county. We’re on the same train. Moreover, national demographic trends suggest that we’re on the right track. The millennial generation who’s coming of age now is showing great propensity for reversing the outward migration trends of recent decades, preferring instead to return to more densely populated urban areas to live and raise families. It’s that generation- not their parents – whose children will determine our school system’s needs for the next few decades.
With Dr. Brooks’ departure imminent, I would encourage the committee to join in that spirit of cooperation, to get on that train, and explore some tracks that may not have been presented you as of yet in preparation for new leadership. We should be planning based on who and where we want to be twenty or thirty years from now rather than just what you’re stuck with this summer.