Thursday night’s marathon environmental scan at the Peninsula School District Board of Directors’ meeting was not a mere formality at which those involved told district officials what they wanted to hear. (See our story on page A1.)
For those not familiar with the term, an environmental scan is a fancy way of saying the district is evaluating its strengths and weaknesses via internal and external input.
That input from a diverse group of stakeholders will go toward making plans and decisions for the future — in this case, updating the district’s strategic plan for implementation next fall.
While there was plenty of positive feedback at the environmental scan — those in attendance generally approved of the job that teachers are doing and had kind words for the quality of students who are graduating from the district — there was some constructive criticism.
Honest feedback is crucial to the environmental scan and the Peninsula School District’s to-be-revised strategic plan.
And participants were honest.
With the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., still fresh in people’s minds from last December, as well as a later incident that involved a man who allegedly shot at custodians who were leaving Goodman Middle School in Gig Harbor, several speakers spoke about safety as a concern.
Maintenance was brought up, with Gig Harbor High School singled out for much-needed building repairs and getting weeds under control.
Others spoke about making sure the district stays up to speed in terms of evolving technology and ensuring students are given a proper education so they can effectively compete in an increasingly interconnected international economy.
Perhaps the biggest concern — not that this will come as a shock — remains funding, both in terms of what comes from the state, as well as what comes from local taxing districts.
A common refrain heard throughout the evening was the need to be able to do more with less.
“These are really challenging times,” said Bates Technical College President Ron Langrell, who foresees further reductions in state funding for higher education, a real concern for students who will be looking to continue their education beyond high school.
That sentiment was backed up by Steve Ashpole, enrollment director at Tacoma Community College, who said that, while enrollment is up at his school, state funding has dropped during the past several years, and the difference has been made up in the form of grants and the similar programs.
Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Warren Zimmerman mentioned the decrease in state funding when it comes to overall education.
The consensus from business owners he spoke to throughout the community is there are no easy answers and this problem will not be fixed overnight.
It is a long-term problem that needs to be addressed, he said.
Tough economics at the local level may mean it will become more difficult in the future for the school district to pass a levy or bond, Peninsula Light Co. Chief Financial Officer Bob Draggoo said.
He advised that the district look into capital costs and employee salaries and benefits in order to avoid any costly labor-management problems in the future.
To its credit, the district, if Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto’s presentation at the environmental scan was any indication, is largely aware of the challenges it faces and is looking, with support from the community, to face them head-on.
From our perspective, it doesn’t look as though the Peninsula School District is taking the ostrich approach and burying its head in the sand when it comes to the difficult realities it faces now and will face in the future.
We think honesty is the best policy when it comes to long-term planning, and we hope the school district takes these red flags into consideration.