Sunday, June 13, 2010

Anchorage School District Renewal Plan For West High And Romig Jr. High Explodes Into A Porkfest Replete With Health Clinic And Community Center

The Anchorage School District (ASD) periodically schedules full-scale renewals of its schools in order to extend the service life of the facilities before full-scale replacement is necessary. In keeping with this principle, ASD is now contemplating the renewals of both West High School and Romig Junior High School, both located adjacent to one another in West Anchorage.

However, as reported by the Anchorage Daily News and by KTUU Channel 2, this scheduled renewal will go far beyond the normal task of upgrading the educational facilities and functions. It will provide space for a health care clinic, community lectures, public computer labs and weight-lifting rooms. Although the cost of construction for the two-schools building alone is estimated at between $145 million and $169 million, estimated costs of the total project, including furnishings, would bump it up to somewhere between $200 million to $236 million, making it the most expensive school building ever built in Anchorage. And Don Smith, the only genuine fiscal conservative on the School Board, thinks the cost is too high, projecting that by the time it is built with adjustments for inflation the city might be looking at a $285 million project. KTUU news video embedded below:

The Anchorage School District provides more specific analyses and data in the following references:

-- ASD Memorandum #350 - Approval of West Romig Master Plan
-- Attachment - Board Presentation (3mb PDF)
-- Attachment - 2010 Master Plan (20mb PDF)
-- Attachment - 2010 Master Plan Resources (6mb PDF)

The first general public hearing on this proposal will be at the ASD Regular School Board Meeting to be held at 6:30 P.M. on Monday June 14th, 2010. Based upon the order of presentation given on the official agenda, discussion of ASD Memorandum #350 should begin around 7:00 P.M. As always, public testimony is encouraged; instructions on preparing testimony and signing up to testify are provided HERE.

After public testimony and board discussion, the board may vote on ASD Memo 350. Note that the vote will merely be to approve the master plan for the idea; it does NOT commit money for construction. The request for funds will come later, and even then only after Anchorage Assembly approval and a public vote to fund it through bonds. Mike Abbott, assistant superintendent of support services for the Anchorage School District, also reminds us that this plan does not have to be taken as all or nothing, and it doesn't need to be signed off by Anchorage voters as one project. It can be accomplished by dividing it into pieces as has been the case with other similar proposals in the past.

Update June 14th: The Anchorage School Board voted 6-1 to accept the plan and push forward. Don Smith was the only Board member voting against it.

Analysis: Besides the obvious "mission creep" of this proposal, just as troubling are the sappy emotional arguments proffered by proponents of the plan. Rochene Rowan-Hellen, former president of the Romig Parent, Teacher and Student Association, said "Why isn't it that we can't get our parents into the school? Why is it that nobody wants to come in through our doors? Because we are very institutional and we make it very frightening...There's nothing friendly about coming into the school". Blythe Marston described the existing West High as "a warren of hallways not welcoming to the community".

Frightening? Unfriendly? Welcoming? Since when do we use all this sappy New Age terminology to describe our schools? If they educate our students for success in life, then they are automatically friendly and welcoming enough. I find the schools I've visited to be sufficiently friendly and welcoming. And in a well-written opinion piece, the Anchorage Daily Planet asks "Where in the district’s list of lofty goals - for instance, increasing its less-than-sterling graduation rate - does it say one of its jobs is to build community centers? How will any of that help educate kids? What will any of it do to increase learning?"

And what about security? Suppose we transform the West-Romig complex into a puppy-dog friendly community center. What's to stop a Dylan Klebold from sneaking in and planting bombs on campus under the guise of this "community center". We've spent a lot of money to make our schools secure from terrorist attacks; this proposal may undermine that effort.

This project is simply too big, and needs to be voted down.

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