Last night was the first meeting of the newly formed FSD Bond Task Force and I was there. I know, yet another task force aimed at passing a bond to repair/update/replace schools and facilities. Wait, didn’t we just do one of those?
Well, yes we did just do one of those a couple of years ago, and a couple before that, and a couple before that, and so on, but none of them really went too well. In fact, that last attempt really crashed and burned with almost 70% rejecting it. Yes you read that correctly, almost 70% of votes were against the last bond. Why? Are voters anti-school? I don’t think so. Was it too much money? It was a lot of money, but I don’t think that was the smoking gun. Was the superintendent working with the Russians to sabotage the election? Hmmm….well….no, I don’t think so.
Was it the wrong plan? Ahh, now we are getting warm, but not hot yet. They may have had the wrong plan, or the right plan. I don’t know. Who really knows, because in my opinion communication with voters was miserable. Again, in my opinion, they lacked a clear message of when, where and why for Ferndale High School and another where, when and why about how the high school plan fits into a district wide plan to rejuvenate facilities. I think a huge percentage of people, including myself, voted no mostly because they didn’t understand what they would be getting with that very expensive yes vote.
That type of poor communication breeds mistrust and the FSD has grown themselves quite the culture of mistrust. It also didn’t help that on several big decisions, such as closing schools or moving 6th grade to middle school, it seems that those big decisions were made before community input meetings were held. It came across as very demeaning to us “little people” who don’t no nuttin. Yup, more mistrust leading to more no votes and that’s a tough way to get a bond to pass.
It’s been maybe three years, so I am sure that the Ferndale School District has gotten their act together. This time will be different, right? Well, given the history, the smart bet would be no, however, after last night’s Bond Task Force Meeting I can say that I personally am cautiously optimistic. There were a few things that contributed to my optimism and a couple that contributed to my cautious feeling.
Feeling Optimistic Because:
- I think they hired the right facilitator, very matter of fact, has obviously done some impartial analysis of our failed bonds, didn’t appear to be hired as yes woman for the school district.
- A recognition by Ferndale School District that improving the community trust issue is foundational to passing a bond.
- The School Board held back only a few non-negotiable items. Meaning that they were willing to consider leaving most options on the table where they can used to craft a bond that best fits community.
Feeling Cautious Because:
- Ferndale School District acknowledged that they have a communication problem with the community at large and that their last post bond poll seemed to also confirm the problem. Yet, even yesterday’s bond meeting appeared to be hidden from the everyday person. If I hadn’t gone looking for it I am sure I’d have no idea it had happened.
- Those in attendance were heavily weighted towards district employees, teachers, and their families. I give them credit for showing up because most of them were there on personal time, however the demographics are a bit skewed from the everyday Ferndale community.
- I was perhaps the only person in the meeting who voted against the last bond, yet 70% of the community voted against the last bond. How do you convert roughly half the NO votes from the last bond run, to YES votes in this bond run, if the NO voters are not part of the process? To me, this is possibly the biggest red flag.
- Lastly, a terribly short timeline, months not years to plan.
What do we need for this to pass? These are my ideas:
- School District communication needs to be forethought not afterthought. Meetings should be plastered on social media before, during and after meetings, including links to more information on the website.
- People don’t need to be choosing paint colors yet, but voters will need to understand some detail about how their money is going to be spent. School District should communicate clearly what will be completed with this bond and what is likely to be done with upcoming bonds. Show how the plans will meet the basic safety and educational needs for students as well as additional programs, if any, that will be available because of the bond.
- The Bond Task Force needs people to get involved who want to see schools repaired, remodeled, or replaced. And I think that we especially need those people who voted NO on the last bond, but who are willing to work towards a bond package that they could vote YES to this time around. However, If you are committed to voting NO on whatever is proposed then please just stay home.
So that’s it for now, and remember that anything I’ve said here is my opinion and my perspective on the process. I don’t represent the school district in any way, shape, or manner. And if you’d like to be on the Bond Task Force, leave a comment with your email and I will forward it on, or just email the Ferndale School District.