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Yellow Springs School Board

School board approves facilities committee

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“We need to start this,” Yellow Springs Schools Superintendent Terri Holden said Monday evening, Feb. 28, during a special meeting of the school board.

Holden offered her brief, but to-the-point, conclusion in response to a proposal, initiated by newly elected board members Dorothee Bouquet and Judith Hempfling, that involves forming a committee that will explore the costs and ramifications of a phased, permanent-improvement plan to repair and upgrade the district’s buildings, compared with the costs and considerations associated with new or partial construction.

District leaders have tried to come up with a facilities plan that meets identified building needs and is acceptable to a majority of the community since 2017, having included facilities upgrades among the goals of the 10-year strategic plan adopted in 2011. Voters rejected two previously proposed plans in May 2018 and November 2021, respectively.

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Holden said that building needs aren’t going away: “We have to get moving.”

Board members agreed that moving forward toward developing a new facilities plan was more important than concurring on the specific wording of the four-page committee proposal, voting unanimously to approve the spirit of the document, while noting specific concerns for the committee’s consideration once it’s established.

Originally on the board’s calendar as a work session, Monday’s meeting designation was changed after a draft of the new facilities committee proposal was first presented during the board’s regular monthly meeting Feb. 10; the change allowed board members not only to continue the facilities discussion, but also to hear community comments and possibly take action on the proposal, which they eventually did.

About a dozen community members attended the two-hour special meeting that was also livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel.

Based on concerns expressed during the Feb. 10 board meeting, particularly for what the treasurer and several others had perceived as bias favoring the adoption of a permanent improvement plan, the proposal’s creators, Dorothée Bouquet and Judith Hempfling, brought a revised document for the board’s consideration Monday. After hearing their presentation, other board members, the district treasurer, the superintendent and a handful of community members responded, many expressing the hope that board members could find common ground despite differing views on the previous facilities proposals and accompanying levy requests.

The revised proposal

Bouquet, who like Hempfling is newly elected to the board, noted that she had voted in favor of each of the previous levy asks. She said she teamed up with Hempfling, whose campaign platform included opposition to the last levy, because she wanted to bridge the divide between the two camps and gather as much specific information as possible in order to provide “clarity to move forward.”

According to their proposal, the goal of the desired facilities committee is “to fully understand whether a Comprehensive Permanent Improvement Plan (CPIP) could match our facilities with the School District’s educational needs in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.”

The purpose of the committee, which is to include a mix of local tradespeople and daily users of the buildings, is exploratory, Bouquet explained.

According to the proposal document: “This is not a commitment to move with this [CPIP] plan, but it is instead an information gathering, investigative process to allow the board to make an informed decision regarding how to meet the district’s facilities needs.”

The intention is to provide information specific to a CPIP — which many in the community maintain has not had an in-depth public analysis and discussion — that the board can then compare to previously presented facilities options, including the mix of renovation and new construction proposed in 2018 and the new K–12 building plan put forward in 2021.

“The school board, not the facilities committee, will be in charge of making the final decision, with input from the community, of choosing which option (or which combination of options) will best meet our needs,” according to the committee proposal.

Board and administrator responses

District Treasurer Jay McGrath, who was particularly vocal during the Feb.10 meeting about his concerns that the draft proposal seemed weighted in favor of a permanent improvement plan, was more conciliatory Monday.

“I still think there’s some assumptions in here,” he said, “but I’m open to all ideas.”

Board member Luisa Bieri Rios said she felt most comfortable thinking of the committee as undertaking “a feasibility study” for options.

“We need to know if this is feasible. Is it doable for our district?” she said. “Can we pay for it? Can we make the improvements that are needed? Is it possible?”

Bieri Riois said she also wants to make certain that, if the committee comes to any conclusions about building needs that differ from the results of previous facilities assessments, it explains “how and why” those differences occurred.

Concerning previous assessments and conclusions, Superintendent Holden said she “struggles a little” with a perceived implication within the proposal “that everything presented before was not believable.”

Another concern for Bieri Rios was the proposal’s language about using 10-year enrollment projections in establishing school building size needs.

“I am aware of the potential politicalization of enrollment and speculation of declining enrollment,” she said. “I will not accept an enrollment plan that does not include room for our open enrollment students.”

Board President TJ Turner said he felt the revised proposal “was a much better product than the last one we saw [Feb. 10].” Still, while he saw “a lot of good thoughts,” he didn’t “quite see a plan,” he said. But there was enough there to get to work, he concluded.

Community feedback

Six community members spoke following the board’s discussion, with a majority expressing appreciation for the board’s efforts to listen to the community and seek a new option for the district.

David Roche, a locally based real estate inspector, said he is pleased with what he’s hearing from the district.

“It’s great seeing new faces, a fresh look in here, and a totally different attitude,” he said.

He also urged the district to remember to include increasing maintenance and material costs as part of their calculations in determining future cost projections and potential levy requests.

“I like that you’re listening,” Chris Hamilton, a district parent who served on the Facilities Task Force in 2019–20, said, adding a caution: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”

Matthew Kirk, another district parent, noted that Yellow Springs isn’t unique in its need for new school buildings. He said he believed the past assessment efforts led to good conclusions, and the longer the district delays in moving forward, the costlier the work will be.

“Maybe we can have a little trust in the people who came before,” he said.

“I’m encouraged by the signs of hope,” resident Scott Fife said, adding that he believed past facilities efforts had been clear and transparent, but he appreciated that the board is working to rebuild trust among those who felt otherwise.

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