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  • Writer's pictureEmily Berry

7 good reasons to show up to Tuesday's board meeting

This post was first posted on my original site Nov. 27, 2017

Our school board will meet Tuesday 11/28 and will take up for the first time the district's Master Facilities Plan. This is one meeting you should make a point to attend in person. Though they are not scheduled to take a final vote on the plan, this step represents the first commitments in writing around what the district's leadership has planned for our school buildings. Here are some reasons to show up:

Here's a link to the presentation, where you can read more about all of the points below.

1. The financial ramifications of these plans are hard to overstate. As their own financial summary (part 8) shows, Shorewood already has a relatively high debt load compared to the state average. We are now considering a debt issue that would take us 24 years to repay. Yes, twenty-four. I will be looking retirement in the eye, if I'm lucky and if that's still a thing that happens in the future. I could be a grandmother, if that's still a thing by then. And will I still be paying interest on what we borrowed to fix plumbing and build a new student union at the high school?

2. Shorewood High School sits in the very heart of Shorewoood, is a historic landmark and hosts countless community activities and events every year not even including those that are for and from students. It matters what the high school looks like, and while I am actually undecided on any specific new building elements, I know many of you folks out there have strong feelings about the idea of changing our high school's look in any way. Many students are opposed to any change at all. Well, now is the time to speak up and let the district know not just what you prefer or don't like, but what you are willing to pay for for 24 years.

3. It is not too late to say "no" to new debt. As I wrote a few weeks back, it appears we have room for something like $4 million in our budget that we could feasibly use to take on one project at a time, depending on priorities for the year. If something catastrophic happened, we would still be flexible and not in debt and forced to raise taxes to address it. If, for example, a school was destroyed by flood, we could reallocate funds we had considered using for new furniture. In contrast, once borrowing is approved for a specific purpose, we are restricted to using the money for that one purpose.

There are legitimate arguments for going ahead with borrowing and doing this all at once -- labor and materials costs go up every year, for example. But I have yet to see our board really ask about the cost and benefit of the borrowing -- if they're asking, it's privately, and I believe this is a public conversation since we're all going to have to pay for the decision.

4. Flip through the draft plan and you'll see what's marked for the next 1-5 years, and what's "TBD." That reflects an early attempt at prioritizing where millions of borrowed dollars will be spent. Do you agree with those priorities? Do you feel confident that the district will take into account what the public wants and not just what they prefer?

5. We may be closer now to fixing the problem, but it's still worth asking why maintenance at all of our buildings has been neglected and apparently underbudgeted for so long. Why do all of our schools need masonry work that we're considering funding with debt, when that is a 100% predictable cost?

6. When members of the community were first asked for their thoughts on what would be most important in a facilities plan, preservation of our historic buildings came up high on the list. I do not see that priority reflected in this draft plan. Preserving and honoring historic buildings does not just mean making sure the masonry isn't rumbling -- though that's a start -- it means finding ways to ensure no building projects compromise the character of the buildings. I would like to hear more, for example, about the plan to replace the clock and bell system at the high school -- I will assume that the beautiful clocks mounted in the hallways will not be moved, but I'd like confirmation of that.

7. The board's agenda includes some very stream-of-consciousness collections of "feedback" that I couldn't make heads or tails of. How should the district proceed with actually collating and integrating that feedback into the plan? Did they look for patterns or repeated themes? Were teachers' comments weighted above other community members? (I'm asking because I think they should be).

These are just a few good reasons to attend -- in reality, there's at least one for every household in Shorewood, because we pay taxes even if our kids aren't running through the hallways at one of these buildings.

I'll see you there: 7 p.m. in the high school library, second floor.

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