Editorial: Stark contrast in openness between districts

Thirty-three desks, which had to be specially purchased to fit the room, line the auto maintenance classroom at San Benito High School in 2008.

When comparing the county’s two largest school districts, the difference in transparency is clear.
Voters will see that disparity in this year’s local elections. On the June ballot, the San Benito High School District is asking voters to OK a $42.5 million bond to improve the current 3,000-student campus on Monterey Street. In November, the Hollister district will ask many of those same residents to approve a currently estimated $27 million bond to expand capacity at Rancho San Justo, Sunnyslope and R.O. Hardin campuses, with no expectation at this time for an entirely new school.
Even with seven months before the general election, Hollister district officials have been direct about plans with their prospective funds. Though district leaders will have to refine the project list with the help of an architect and local residents, the superintendent and trustees have left the impression they have nothing to hide – that the measure and necessity will sell themselves.
San Benito High School District officials, on the other hand, have left most of the public in the dark throughout a planning process starting in late 2012. The wider public now has all but two months to digest a monumental decision with broad implications for the county’s academic and economic futures. This isn’t just about spending $42.5 million on a slate of projects. This decision is setting a long-term course – which does include that significant taxpayer investment – toward building a more impenetrable, institutionalized mega-campus.
Much of the discourse has been about narrowing the project list – a long slate of ideas such as new classrooms to replace outdated portables, new science labs and a replacement vocational building. With the measure finally headed to the ballot, though, the district has left itself wide discretion to pick from the lengthy list stretching far beyond the highlighted proposals.
Although school officials have stressed how athletic facilities are low on the priority list, it remains stunning that $22.6 million in sports-related items – or about one-third of the total list amount – are identified for potential upgrades. Before the June election, voters would have to look closely at the bond measure to see the academically challenged district’s attempt to leave several doors wide open.
The general “Bond Project List” shown toward the top of the measure includes five improvement areas – such as classroom replacements, roof repairs and safety.
From there, starting on page three of the measure, it offers further information on each of those five improvement areas. Under the safety category, there are 10 bullet points.
The first one reads: “Upgrade and perform essential safety repairs and improvements on classrooms, science laboratories, and other school and athletics facilities”
Then at the bottom of the subgroup of bullet points is this: “Construct, improve or renovate PE and athletic facilities if needed for student welfare or to accommodate other school, classroom and lab improvements.”
San Benito High School District officials don’t appear to want dialogue on details in their plan, at least not outside their bubble of support. On the other hand, an increasingly progressive Hollister district is welcoming involvement from the public seven months before the election.

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