Like many Provo residents, I received a bulletin from Provo School District in the mail this week providing details about the upcoming $245 million bond vote.
Glaringly absent from this communication was any indication of the district’s plans to rebuild Dixon Middle School at a new location on the west side of the city.
Moving the school is going to have a tremendous impact, not only on the immediate neighborhood, but on the whole city. Building on a new site will lock the district into having only two mega-sized middle schools, no matter how large we continue to grow. Centennial is already almost 1,300 students, and the plans for Dixon call for it to be built for 1,200 students with the possibility of future expansion.
Research shows schools of that size negatively impact student performance and are harder for staff to manage. The city will also be required to take on significant additional expenses to make sure the new site has adequate sewer, water, roads and sidewalks to support a large school.
The area surrounding the current Dixon site is one of the poorest in the city, where many families rely on the ability of their children to walk to school. Central Provo is also one of the most walkable areas of the whole Wasatch Front. Many families there, by necessity or choice, effectively live with only a single car. The easy access to a wide variety of services, shopping, schools and transit enables this. Losing a second school in just five years from the central area to the edge of the city undermines the strengths of the community and the city.
When the board originally announced their intent to bond on April 23, they clearly included language in the resolution that they intended to move the middle school from the historic neighborhood.
As time has gone on, and they have learned how unpopular moving the school is with residents throughout Provo, they are attempting to bury that information. They have gone as far as removing all references of a new middle school location in the official ballot proposition. The four-page voter information packet sent to every Provo Resident intentionally omits any hint that Dixon will not be rebuilt on the current site.
Whether or not you think moving Dixon to a new location is worth all the negative impacts on the community, the school board deliberately withholding this information is dishonest and manipulative. Provo voters deserve an accurate portrayal of not only the explicit, but also the implied consequences of voting. By withholding their plans to move Dixon from the ballot, and in their official publications, the district is showing they are uninterested in providing voters with either.
We must ask ourselves as citizens and taxpayers, if the school district is willing to go to such lengths to avoid addressing a basic, though unpopular, fact to pass their preferred version of a bond, what other unflattering details about their plans are they hiding from voters? If we cannot count on our school board to be open and honest about these critical impacts, how can we trust their other assurances they have made regarding the bond?
The final page of the information packet, where the district claims to be “committed to integrity and transparency through this entire process” rings hollow. We deserve better.