Dear GPS: Please Tell Me We’re Wrong

Dear GPS:

Please tell me we’re all wrong about a few things. That maybe we’re just not hearing you right. Because, literally none of this makes any sense. At all.

Please tell me you weren’t going to ask the GPS school board to vote on a proposed school closure before you actually have a policy in place to guide that process. Please tell me I’m reading this wrong.

Voting on something, before developing the policy that regulates that “something.”

Please tell me you weren’t really going to do that. Policy is just about the only tool the community has to hold the district accountable for its actions. Policy is why we questioned you when you asked the governing board to suspend rules that regulated how parents need to be notified of a proposed school closure, after you failed to notify them properly earlier this year.

It didn’t look good when you tried to change the rules midstream. So, tell me you aren’t going to make them up as you go along on this one. Trust me. It won’t look good, again. And, it’s wrong.

Please tell me you’re not considering spending possibly millions of dollars to close one campus, relocate its students and move a specialty school in, as you face the bleak projection of a multi-million-dollar loss due to student turnover next year. Please tell me we’re wrong on that one.

Because, it certainly looks like you’re doing that. Your own budget proposals for the upcoming year assumes a 1,000 to 1,500 student loss. That equates to a more than $5 million deficit, compared to this year, should 1,500 students leave. Given the way you’ve handled this school relocation debacle, it’s not an entirely outlandish projection.

But, it’s more outlandish to spend money when you’re being told, right now, that money might be going out the back door at the same time.

Please tell me you didn’t commission a second demographics report, at a cost of about $15,000, with hopes it would tell you something different than the one you did a year ago. The first report projected growth — the second report projects growth. Neither of the reports provide data that supports a school closure, as confirmed by your own demographics contractor. On tape.

Gilbert’s housing market is noted as “vibrant,” so why contract?

In fact, the most recent report highlights how well Gilbert’s housing market is doing, and emphasizes the need for boundary realignment and instructional space at the junior high and high school levels. In case you missed it, your contractor who handled the report emphasized that the population of school-age children is on the increase in Gilbert. It’s your job to build up schools and communities in a way that attracts students, not runs them off.

The school-age population is increasing.

Perhaps most nauseating, please tell me you aren’t already moving forward with plans to build an auditorium at Gilbert Junior High School. Three sources have confirmed it. You aren’t, right? Because if you are, that would be wildly underhanded. Just crazy deceptive. And, I feel like it might even teeter on the edge of what’s legal, but I’m no attorney. I just know that if you are moving forward with plans to renovate the cafeteria to create more space for an additional music room, outlined on the blueprints that have been created, it means you know the outcome of a vote that hasn’t happened — and that community input, given in heart-wrenching fashion at community forums and through letters written to the board, meant nothing. Tell me you aren’t doing this.

Where the new auditorium is planned for GJHS, according to blueprints.

Please tell me you don’t plan to move ahead with closing a campus without a detailed cost analysis. I mean, how could you? Round numbers mean nothing in this case.

Please tell me you have specific answers to the still unanswered cost questions, including but not limited to:

  • What does $500,000 get you? Heck, what does $2 million get you?
  • What does it cost to build an auditorium?
  • What will it cost to upgrade science labs?
  • What will transportation adjustments cost?
  • How much do you need to shell out for fire lanes?
  • What will it cost to prepare one junior high for the arrival of another junior high student body?
  • What is the cost of a new paint job, across the campus?
  • How much will it cost to upgrade the track at Gilbert Junior?
  • What will it cost to hang nets on the baseball fields at Gilbert Junior? What about lights?
  • How much do you plan to spend on a new digital sign for GCA?
  • What will it cost to renovate the cafeteria and build a new music room?
  • How much will it be to repave the gravel lot, demo the tennis courts, and prepare softball fields for the construction of an auditorium?
  • What will you spend to market GCA, since the entire community would expect growth and retention if it costs us a school, overcrowding and most of all, money?

Do you have answers to any of these things? Please tell me you won’t move forward unless you do. Although, if you do, and you decided not to share it with the public, that’s wrong, too. How can we truly know the whole picture if numbers aren’t attached?

Based on what we’ve seen to date, costs are certainly on an upward sliding scale. First it was $500,00 to close a junior high. Then it went to $1–2 million. And now you’re well on your way to $5 million (with a $5 million projected budget loss) by adding in a new auditorium and all of GCA’s other campus requirements. That’s a $10 million swing, just like that. And, that doesn’t even factor in the loss the district takes every year by educating out-of-district kids at GCA, since the cost to educated GCA students is greater than what the state gives the district in funding. Wow.

Please tell me you’re open to other possibilities. That you understand a school closure doesn’t HAVE to happen — and further, shouldn’t happen, based on the facts.

A “school within a school” is still a viable option, although it appears to have an inflated price tag attached to it. But, who would know without a cost analysis? Tell me you recognize that there is an opportunity to build up the western side of the district while also saving two schools and their communities. Look no further than town leaders who made a conscious decision to rejuvenate downtown Gilbert rather than abandon it.

Imagine this: Drop GCA in at Mesquite High and the students have access to all of the amenities, Mesquite’s enrollment issues are solved, and GCA has prime real estate on the edge of the district. If you don’t want to co-mingle junior high with high school, offer GCA’s junior high space at Mesquite Junior and have the program feed into Mesquite High.

And the possibilities don’t end there. That was just a mash-up of brilliance offered by fellow community members. Boundary adjustments, as the demographics report suggested, would do wonders for enrollment.

Even your contractors says boundaries need to be adjusted for balance.

Please tell me you own a calendar. And if you do, please tell me you actually look at it. Please tell me you understand the timing that comes with enrollment cycles. Tell me you understand that parents and students in sixth grade attended “welcome nights” at Mesquite and Gilbert Junior weeks ago, anticipating that big jump to seventh grade. Tell me you understand that you have injected another dose of crippling uncertainty into two communities that have already told sixth graders to choose their school.

Closing a junior high, ever — but especially this late in the year — with the benign information you have, is wrong. In fact, last time we did this dance, your former superintendent insisted that it was too late in the year to move forward — and that was in January. School’s out in a few weeks.

Junior high generally stinks. Most people can attest to it. Why make that transition harder for your students and your parents, many of whom trusted you a few months ago and supported a heavily-advertised bond and override?

Please tell me you have thoroughly thought through the very real consequences of decreasing instructional space in the district, and what kind of precedent that sets. What will our district do, when in the very near future, it is at capacity — or worse — beyond capacity? I’ll tell you what you won’t be able to do — ask the School Facilities Board, or the public, for cash. Not after you pull something as unjustified as this.

Please tell me you’ve looked at this. All of this. Please tell me you’ve asked these questions, and that you have these answers. Tell me you’ll share those answers. The real answers.

Please tell me you’ll do the right thing. Please tell me you won’t make up the rules as you go along, you haven’t moved forward with plans for an auditorium, you won’t spend unnecessarily, you won’t ignore future growth, you won’t disregard very real traffic and safety concerns, and you won’t make decisions without a detailed cost analysis.

Please tell me you won’t close a school. Please tell me you understand the facts don’t support it. Tell me you understand the community doesn’t support it. Please tell me you recognize that all of this is wrong.

Tell me you heard us.

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