Opinion: Where do we go from here at Ridgefield School District?

When it comes to the Ridgefield School District bond proposal, Heidi Pozzo believes the message should be clear: people are unhappy their perspective is not being heard and considered.
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Heidi Pozzo believes the message should be clear: people are unhappy their perspective is not being heard and considered

Heidi Pozzo 
for Clark County Today

There seem to be two common themes that have emerged during the Ridgefield School District bond campaign and election. The first being a Rorschach test in what people see and the second being a feeling of “it’s too much.” 

Heidi Pozzo
Heidi Pozzo

For some, it is plain as day that the plan developed many years ago is what the community wants and is the only path that makes sense. For others, the repeated no vote is a sign that there are concerns that need to be examined. 

Some see the community as the city of Ridgefield. Others living outside the city see different centers of civic life and view their community differently. 

Even things as simple as an answer to a question can cause a flashpoint. Some see lies and dishonesty. Others see someone being given a set of numbers that can be interpreted differently based on the circumstances. See below for an example. 

The lens we look through will yield a different view. Should we consider the views of others as flawed or should we seek to understand so we can find a middle ground? And should we assume malintent or should we consider people want the best for the kids and community and just have a different view of how to get there? 

I’ve toured all the schools and talked to a number of people around the community. I’ve examined many documents that form the basis of the analysis I’ve shared (see below). I’ve also attended coffee talks, town halls and board meetings. 

What I’ve heard and seen leads to the second theme: it’s too much. 

For some, the presence of portables, long pick up and drop off lines, extended lunch times are a sign of capacity issues in the schools that need to be addressed. 

For others that are seeing significant increases in their expenses, an $817 property tax increase for the average home is too much. Especially with fire departments requesting a lid lift in August to support their needs, as well as increasing insurance, energy and other bills. 

For the folks working in the schools and trying to balance the volume of kids vs. the size of common spaces, it is a challenge. 

For long-time residents who wanted a certain lifestyle that is no longer and are being asked to significantly increase their taxes because of how the state mandates growth, it feels like a lot. 

And for those that have worked on designing and developing a bond package, seeing it rejected five times is “mind boggling.” 

For everyone, a lot is being asked.  

Finding a balance is the challenge. 

For those concerned with cost, the path to building an elementary school could include removing the full-size soccer field, reducing the gym size and looking at cost drivers that could reduce the overall cost like was done in the 2012 bond or having it funded by other means.  

This approach would also push all of the items like track resurfacing, roof replacements, acoustic fixes, etc. into the operating budget.  

A dedicated wrestling room could be funded through a capital campaign like was done for the entrance to the high school stadium. 

The elementary schools could be adjusted to K-5 to take pressure off of View Ridge/Sunset Ridge.  

Expansion at the high school should focus on general education, with any expansion of programming being clearly outlined with accompanying capital and operational cost. 

For people concerned with parity, long term, the current View Ridge/Sunset Ridge could become a 7-8 campus so everyone has equal access to the RORC and 7-8 graders have the equal ability to see and be inspired by what is going on at the high school. 

Partnerships could be formed across the region to provide for more advanced technical skill development for students that have a deep desire to head down a chosen career track. Ridgefield School District is too small to take on a robust CTE program alone. 

Any one plan that does not consider and balance the needs and concerns of all stakeholders will meet resistance. There are many ways to achieve a balance that reduces cost and addresses the need for more capacity.  

There’s a reason for the supermajority requirement to pass a bond. It requires that a sufficient number of people are both aware of a long-term financial commitment and support it. 

Where some see the last election as a failure of the system, others see it as not letting a minority make a decision for the majority. 

59.17% of people who voted, voted for the bond. 30.58% of registered voters voted for the bond. Depending on your view, you either see an undemocratic process where a majority vote can’t make a bond happen, or you see the supermajority requirement preventing a minority from imposing a long-term cost on the majority of the people.  

There is a path forward that balances objectives. It will take reaching out to the entire community to gain consensus. And that takes time and can’t be short circuited. 

Whichever way this vote goes, some will be happy and others will be profoundly disappointed. The message should be clear: people are unhappy their perspective is not being heard and considered.  

Once that message is received and embraced, it is possible to move forward and find a solution that balances all objectives going forward.  

How a simple question becomes a flashpoint: 

I asked about capacity numbers for the proposed schools because they were not available on the website. We’re being asked to vote for building new schools to address growth in the community. Knowing how much capacity is being added is the central question. And there was a short time frame for getting information to perform an analysis for the voters pamphlet. The County’s deadlines aren’t flexible. 

On the seventh attempt to get capacity information across two different sets of people, the following was provided for the high school: 

“The addition at the high school is a new building that adds 9 general education classrooms, plus a metals classroom and the metals shop. So yes, it would certainly add capacity. The current CBA states that the average class size at the high school is 31 students, and that no classroom is above 35 students. Using these figures, you can extrapolate that the additional capacity of these 10 new classrooms would be an estimated 310-350 students.” 

It was a different answer than the stated capacity for the K-4 and 5-8 school of 600 and 1,000, respectively. The answer required me to take two sets of numbers and arrive at a potential capacity. 

Should 9 or 10 classrooms be used to calculate capacity? There is an existing metals classroom and metals lab whose disposition is unknown. Is the metals classroom a replacement or an addition?  

And how many students per classroom should be used to calculate capacity? How the classrooms are used will have an impact. OSPI indicates the class size at the high school is 19.3. Or should the target average class size of 25 per the 2022-2028 Capital Facility Plan be utilized.  

In the 2022 State of the City update (13:10 mark), the high school addition was described as a vocational building that would add capacity for 275 students and 11 staff. Then there’s the bargaining agreement with 31 average class size, and no class above 35.  

The District recently updated it’s bond page. There are two places now that include capacity information. One indicates the elementary capacity is in the range of 600-650, the 5-8 is 1,000 and the high school is 300+. The other indicates the elementary is 600, the 5-8 is 1,000 and does not include a capacity for the high school.  

What to do with so many conflicting data points? 

When I stated I was using 9 classrooms and 25 students per class, I didn’t share all of the above data points. I should have been more clear about all of the data I was looking at. 

For some, not walking through these conflicting points is considered dishonest, biased and deceitful. For me, in the absence of a confirmed capacity number, I took what I thought was a midpoint and showed the math so others could make their own determination. Different people will look at the answer and come to different conclusions.    

There’s another similar situation. I did a cost per square foot calculation for the K-4 school to compare to OSPI statistics for recent school construction. My analysis included a cost range of $59-63 million and I indicated it was provided by a District advisor. 

That was met with a claim of lying again because the cost of the bond reflects for $46 million for the K-4 school. And the District has recently updated the website to reflect the breakdown of the bond that shows just that.  

What isn’t explained is that the $46 million is what is left to go that isn’t paid for by state match or impact fees. If you add back the state match and what has already been spent or paid for by impact fees, you get my cost.  

Is the District lying because it is showing the amount covered by the bond and not the total cost? I don’t think that is the intent. From my perspective, it seems like the breakdown of where the bond money is being used by component.  

It is through having attended a coffee talk, town hall and several board meetings that I was able to piece the information together.  

And that’s the point. When faced with conflicting or incomplete information, how does one arrive at a conclusion? Or even know that information is incomplete? 

I’ve attempted to lay out the logic as I see it and cite sources where I can to provide a perspective. And when that perspective includes judgment, provide enough information so people can come to their own. 

Each individual can and should take varying viewpoints and apply their own perspectives and judgment. Also read: 

Where did the data come from for Ridgefield School District

Heidi Pozzo has been a Ridgefield resident for 16 years. She is a concerned citizen who would like students to get a good education and thinks we can do it in a more cost-effective way.

Also read:

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