The Board of Supervisors opted to give the county permission to borrow nearly $26 million in funds for construction of a fourth middle school Tuesday night, even as they consider to weigh whether or not they'll support the plan.
In a 3-2 vote, Supervisors Michael Hipple, Ruth Larson, and John McGlennon voted for the authorization, which only gives the county permission to borrow the money through leasing of bonds.
The meeting marked the second straight forum where supervisors had sharp disagreements as to whether the middle school was necessary.
Supervisors Kevin Onizuk and Sue Sadler said they still had more questions about the necessity of the project, citing revised student projections that showed the facility would be well under capacity.
"Some of the projections and graphs I’ve seen show us peaking at some point and then the enrollment numbers start to drop," Sadler said. Sadler proposed postponing any authorization until May after the Board of Supervisors holds a joint meeting with the School Board. That motion failed on a 3-2 vote.
"To me it seems like rational planning to talk about opening a fourth middle school that will allow us to have all of our middle schools at 85 to 90 percent capacity," said McGlennon.
Supervisor Kevin Onizuk said that some employees of the school division have felt intimidated from coming forward with concerns about the middle school.
"One of the things that gives me the most pause is the feedback I’m getting not only from folks in this room but from parents I run into and from teachers," Onizuk said.
He said a group of middle school teachers asked to talk to him but canceled at the last minute because "someone got wind they wanted to talk to me. "
W-JCC School Board Chairman Jim Kelly attended the meeting and denied there was any retribution for employees who had concerns about the plan. "We have never taken retribution, we've certainly encouraged input from our teachers, staff and parents," Kelly said.
He said the division would be happy to discuss any concerns with the Board of Supervisors regarding the middle school plan. Kelly said the middle school was needed despite the lower projections for enrollment because the school division uses a "conservative approach" when estimating student population. "I'm hopeful that it will move forward," Kelly said, regarding the plan. The school division is tentatively scheduled to meet with the Board of Supervisors on March 22nd during the Board of Supervisors' work session.