March 14, 2017
The Community Committee for Education has pushed back its timeline for presenting facilities recommendations to the Steamboat Springs School Board
Our school facilities needs are both real and immediate, and the available time to develop and refine a plan to place an issue on the November ballot is quickly running out
We were more than a little concerned last week to learn that the Community Committee for Education, or CC4E, has extended the timeline for presenting its recommendations for school facilities construction and upgrades to the Steamboat Springs School Board.
It was also troubling to learn that CC4E member Chad Phillips — who also serves as Routt County’s planning director — had resigned from the committee and that city planning director Tyler Gibbs, who also serves on the committee, has been unable to attend many of the group’s meetings due to city commitments. Phillips and Gibbs were and are CC4E’s most-qualified members in terms of negotiating the parking and traffic issues that will undoubtedly accompany any proposal.
In our view, these two bits of news are potentially ominous signs.
It's been nearly a year and a half since the city's voters soundly defeated a $92 million bond issue that would have funded construction of a new high school and upgrades to buildings across the Steamboat Springs School District, as well as enabled the completion of long-deferred maintenance needs at existing campuses.
And the bond issue's defeat came after nearly a year of strategic planning on the part of district administrators and the school board to develop the plan.
That means we've been seriously discussing our school facilities needs for nearly two and a half years now, and last week's announcement from CC4E causes us to wonder if those two and a half years have brought us to the point we need to be in terms of devising and implementing sustainable solutions to our school needs.
While we acknowledge the progress the committee has made and are grateful to the dedicated CC4E members who have voluntarily set themselves to the unenviable task of developing solutions to our educational needs, it is the rapidly dwindling timeline that concerns us.
The time crunch is as real as the district's needs. Both CC4E members and the school board have repeatedly said the goal is to place a proposal on the ballot in November, and the deadline for doing so is now just more than four months away (July 28). Receipt of the committee's recommendations is only the first step in crafting a viable proposal to present to voters.
We are not alone in our concerns. Following CC4E's announcement last week, several school board members expressed similar misgivings.
"Time is becoming our least available asset," said board member Roger Good. "There's lots of work to do after a decision is made, and I'm concerned about time."
Added board chair Joey Andrew: "We only have so much time to put something on the ballot, if that's what the board decides to do. I really want to see options come before the board."
It is not our desire to castigate the committee. It seems a capable group of good thinkers that truly has the best interests of the community and its students at heart, and we fully appreciate the scope and difficulty of its task. Neither is it our intention to suggest the committee should skimp on its due diligence in an attempt to get something out there.
Moreover, we are encouraged that the committee has begun hosting focus groups within the community and plans to hold a public community forum March 23, but at the same time, we cannot help wondering exactly what the holdup is.
And now, with a year and a half behind us and less than six months remaining to submit final ballot language (Sept. 8), we learn that proposals will be delayed, that one of the the committee's two professional planners has left the table and that the other professional planner in the group has, of necessity, had limited involvement in the process.
All that said, it's time the committee narrowed its strategies and goals, with the looming deadlines foremost in its collective thinking. Its members have worked too long and too hard not to have reached some recommendations they could put before the public.
We understand hasty planning was part of the reason the 2015 bond issue failed, so we appreciate the committee's desire to mesh district needs with community values. Coming up with a viable plan that will pass muster with voters is vital, but developing such a plan within the prescribed timeline is of equal import.
The district's needs are real, and unfortunately, time is a luxury we no longer have. It is our responsibility to provide our top-quality students the facilities they need to learn and our top-quality educators the tools they need to teach.
The clock is ticking.