Fayetteville High in motion | Arkansas Blog

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fayetteville High in motion

Posted By on Mon, Feb 18, 2008 at 4:15 PM

Thanks to the Iconoclast, I knew the Fayetteville School Board had scheduled a hurry-up special meeting today to consider the simmering controversy over building a new high school. The Powers That Be seem to favor selling the current high school to the University of Arkansas and build a new school on the edge of town. Edge city developers are positively salivating at the idea.

This being Fayetteville, a town full of thinkers, some smart-growth proponents have emerged.  The leaders include Janine Parry, a faculty member at UA. They are raising questions about what they believe could be underestimates of the cost of the move, along with the general soundness of lifting the high school out of the center of town.

Here's a prepared statement from that group, BuildSmart. 

The PTB won round one today, with a 7-0 vote to begin the negotiating process with UA, though this isn't a straw vote on school board sentiment on a move of the campus. On the jump, some further comments about the meeting from Parry, a political science professor.


Bottom line: they adopted (7-0) a motion to start a conversation that leads to negotiation with the UA over the sale of FHS.  This means they authorized a “negotiating team” of Rudy Moore (legal counsel), Lisa Morstadt (financial/accounting), and Bobby New (supt.), and possibly one other “lead negotiator” to be determined to enter into that conversation with the UA.

The resolution actually was much broader: to enter into a fact-finding conversation with the UA over broad-based partnership (with FPS) to include the sale of 40 acres and other resources.  That latter part came from board member Susan Heil’s proposal that negotiation should include finding “the right price” but also (could) include bus service (put FHS on UA’s bus route), partnership between the College of Ed. and Leverett Elementary (the next little school on the chopping block), scholarships for FHS students at UA, a meeting every year about the partnership, a “green partnership” with UA’s new sustainability initiative, ties with the honors college, and facility use (e.g., athletic facilities, mtg rooms, performing arts center use).

Heil’s signals in the press lately favor the sell and move approach.

The haggling over language was excruciating, but fascinating.  Is this a “conversation” or a “negotiation?”  And the whole thing become quite muddled, so muddled that when Becky Purcell (most recently elected and on the record as favoring the current location) asked the secretary to read back the final resolution before the vote, the others interrupted her/muscled her out and insisted on an immediate vote because “it’s on camera so we can record the minutes right later.” (paraphrasing banker Howard Hamilton here)  Uh, yeah, after she voted. 

That said, it was obvious at that point (understandably from my perspective) tha ALL THE BOARD MEMBERS, INCLUDING SOME WHO'VE INDICATEDthe four folks who now probably favor a central location were going to vote FOR the “conversation/negotiating team” (because they can’t risk looking fiscally irresponsible/inflexible by refusing to at least consider it), that really hearing/crafting the resolution was moot.

It was bare-knuckled local politics.  Zow.

BuildSmart bottom line is: It’s understandable that the UA and FPS would be interested in at least talking.  But – if they can agree on a price – it seems certain to me that one of two things will happen: the UA will pay more for that property than its really worth (Tyson’s premium … hardly going to play well with a state and legislature already pissy about our resources) OR the school district doesn’t get as much money as it really needs to offset the high price of starting over. 

I’m also deeply concerned that engaging in negotiation while a citizen committee is still meeting (a committee charged with data collection and recommendation on the location issue) sends exactly the message this district doesn’t need to send: “you plebians go through the motions of debating the merits of various locations but we’ll be over here doing the big boy business.”  That perception killed our 2005 millage (61-39) and was recently noted in a communications audit report of the district as a major obstacle to district-community relations.  If that’s how the whole thing is perceived, ANY millage (at any location) is doomed to fail.  That risk of millage meltdown is exactly why we formed BuildSmart before they put anything on the ballot. 

Anyway, we’re launching a website later this week that’s got loads of maps and numbers.  We’re still under the illusion that data matter in public policy debates



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