Media: Save R-12 Schools Committee Springfield Business Journal Column (3-21-17)

Original Article: SBJ.net

Contemporary businesspeople and professionals rely on data-based decision making. For many years SPS has declared that it is a “data-driven” district. SPS claimed that, by means of ongoing testing, individual, class, and school performance could be accurately tracked, appropriate interventions undertaken, and outcomes improved.

However, SPS bond proponents now assert something quite different. They explicitly disparage the relevance of achievement scores, and, instead, campaign on promises of providing “happy learning spaces” or “quality learning environments” or other word salad combinations equally impervious to measurement.

This is quite simple to explain. The metrics SPS has previously professed to follow do not, in any way, support the undertaking of the current proposal.

A comparison of student proficiency at the four newest facilities in the SPS inventory with scores at older demographically similar schools reveals no ongoing superiority (Harrison and Hickory Hills), some decline (Sherwood), or substantial deterioration (Westport).

The Westport case is especially troubling since it is the prototype for three other high-poverty “co-located” K-8 configurations at the heart of Phase 1 of this scheme.

The most dangerous phrase in investment finance and economics is “this time it’s different.”


That new local facilities have no positive causal or correlative relationship to academic achievement is consistent with the massive experiment in Kansas City which, under federal court order, “invested” in new buildings throughout that system.

Unfortunately for all concerned, especially the KC students, such an approach was badly mistaken. Instead of becoming an exemplar of excellence, that district’s descent continued unabated.

The most dangerous phrase in investment finance and economics is “this time it’s different.”

Some proponents have also alleged that older school buildings are inherently incapable of “21 st century” uses. This must come as a surprise to Downtown and Commercial Street residents and business owners. It must also be troubling to Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and Harvard.

While the greatest share of the increased taxes this proposal entails will be borne by owners of business properties and affluent homeowners, the most significant damage will be experienced by struggling neighborhoods.

Many neighborhoods will be suddenly transformed from communities with a school hub at their heart into areas subject to immediate decline.


Up to ten existing school sites will be entirely abandoned upon implementation of both plan phases. When schools are relocated, neighborhoods are dislocated. This is widely understood and explains why residents of the Rountree and Pershing attendance areas have so consistently resisted prior persistent efforts to close their elementaries.

Many neighborhoods will be suddenly transformed from communities with a school hub at their heart into areas subject to immediate decline.

This has been the fate of neighborhoods throughout America when such public disinvestment and subsequent private disinvestment occurs and has been discernible here as well. Residential property values are linked to the proximity of a school, especially at the elementary level and particularly in poorer neighborhoods.

This will significantly complicate current efforts to combat poverty.

Additionally, several more buildings will be demolished and replaced on-site. This wasteful spending will sacrifice recent infrastructure such as modern HVAC systems while taxpayers continue to pay for it through the prior bonds that financed its installation.

We are not in denial that some building conditions are unacceptable and need remediation. We believe that the wise and sustainable course of action is to repair, rehab, and renovate, where necessary, but don’t generally replace. No rational homeowner confronted with a clogged toilet or a leaky roof would conclude that only replacing the whole house would suffice as a remedy.

This issue neither lends itself to the false binary choice between embracing this particular proposition or doing nothing nor, only by fervency of support, gauges the depth of one’s concern for this community’s children or dedication to public education.

Please act prudently and vote “No” on “Proposition SPS.”