Artificial turf or parking spaces? Improve elementary schools or middle schools? Replace a gym or build more classrooms? Or, all of the above?
Officials at Spokane Public Schools have spent months weighing the needs of district facilities to include in a bond request that will go to voters in February. Before making a final decision, they want input from the community.
“We want our constituents to help us think through what we need in the district,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent of the state’s second-largest school district.
Breaking from the traditional, sparsely attended community meetings, the district has decided to engage people online through ThoughtExchange, a “group insight platform” created by a Rossland, B.C.-based consulting group that’s already used by districts in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Spokane heard from more than 8,000 people during its first query about what the district is doing right and what it’s doing wrong. Central Valley School District has used the tool twice; the second time officials asked the public to weigh in on facility needs.
“People are busy and they don’t have time to come to meetings,” said Melanie Rose, CV district spokeswoman. “The feedback is invaluable.”
Targeted groups are invited via email to take part, or people can find a link to the questionnaires or conversations on a district’s website. After coming up with several replies, the participants are then asked to rank the answers using stars.
The goal is to make sure people feel they have a voice in shaping decisions, said ThoughtExchange President Dave MacLeod.
Said Kevin Morrison, Spokane Public Schools spokesman, “We want to make sure it’s not just a group-think from inside.”
When Spokane Public Schools decided to define a list of facility needs, the board set some parameters: Taxes had to stay the same as when the initial bond passed in 2003; school boundaries couldn’t be changed; and all schools would remain open. District officials are concerned, however, that keeping the tax rate at the 2003 level – $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed value – could bring in less money because of fluctuations in property values.
Also adding to uncertainty are smaller class sizes, the addition of nontraditional schools, and the district’s plans to acquire Joe Albi Stadium.
The district already has winnowed its list of potential projects from seven lists to two lists. The items in common on those two lists are rebuilding Salk Middle School; a commons area at North Central High School; rebuilding Linwood Elementary School; modernizing Franklin Elementary and adding an addition; building a new gym at Shaw Middle School; upgrades to Adams Elementary School; and adding on to Wilson Elementary School.
Items that need more input include replacing Balboa Elementary versus adding classrooms at the current facility; installing an artificial turf at North Central High School; adding classrooms at Lewis and Clark High School; and upgrading Joe Albi Stadium.
Anderson acknowledged that the public could come up with other items that the district didn’t consider.
“The board and the district are still in the planning phase,” he said. “We need the public to help us make a decision.”
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