Op/Ed: FPS bond vote is a larger referendum

Publisher’s note: This op/ed is based on one published in our weekly email for top-level Farmington Voice patrons. Learn how you can join them here: farmingtonvoice.com/support/

In a little less than two weeks, Farmington Public Schools voters will decide the fate of a $98 million bond request that will fund 10 years’ worth of capital projects.

If the measure passes, the FPS millage rate drops .1 mil. If it doesn’t, the reduction is 1 mil. So if your home has a taxable value of $75,000, your taxes will drop either $7.50 or $75 per year.

I made it to a district presentation about the bond, which was pretty straightforward. Voters can review how funds will be spent in a 2019 facilities study available online; it really is that simple.

I’ve also watched video of the Farmington Area Republican Club’s town hall meeting and received a copy of one speaker’s notes, which question the district’s fiscal responsibility and point out academic shortcomings.

Representatives of Farmington Kids 1st, the group that supports a “no” vote, say they’re not opposed to funding schools. They’re opposed to this bond, which they say was placed on the ballot without a plan and without bringing the community into the planning process.

I tend to disagree with that point; the school board has been talking about capital needs for months, in public meetings. Also, a committee involved in the 2015 bond process recommended the district come back to voters in four or five years to address future capital needs.

That trustees didn’t invite a specific group of people to the table doesn’t mean they’ve shown contempt for the community. Anyone who didn’t hear four years ago that the district would be back for more money wasn’t here or wasn’t paying attention.

It is true that the district took more time with the 2015 bond. We had a new superintendent back then, too, who was pushing uphill after two failed elections: a $222 million request and one that broke the larger number down into two questions.

What I remember most about that campaign Is the Traveling Superintendent Show. Dr. George Heitsch spoke to anyone who’d listen about the district’s plan. He had to; the sweeping proposal involved major renovations.

During that $131.5 million bond discussion, a citizen committee was formed to oversee the construction program. That committee is gone, and for some folks, trust has diminished over the past few years. Some disagree with how portions of the 2015 bond funds were spent.

Because this year’s bond program is so much simpler, it strikes me as a referendum about more than money.

Frankly, if a majority of district voters won’t support adequate heating and cooling equipment in school buildings, safe playgrounds and buses, and upgrades to computer technology, while paying a little less in taxes, we’ve got a different kind of structural problem.

Joni Hubred

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