Prosper Texas. A small town of twenty-two thousand people just north of Dallas. If you believe the name, Prosper sounds like an idyllic place. People move to Prosper for many reasons. Prospers schools are just one of those reasons.
Recently, the Proper Independent School District completed a $710 million bond issue which included a $52 million dollar football stadium for Prosper High School.
My first reaction: Wow! $52m stadium…for a high school? This can’t be real.
On second thought. Ackchyully, that’s a very nice facility.
Then I listened to the interviews with the parents of the students at the first game in their new stadium. There’s a sense of optimism that you cannot miss. They exude hope for the future of their community and for their children.
I imagine it’s no different for many parents and students here in Broward County.
Which made me reflect on the recent performance of our local school district, the Broward County School District.
In 2014 Broward County taxpayers approved an $800 million bond, not to build college-sized stadiums, but to repair neglected and aging schools, to make needed safety improvements and to improve the technology in classrooms. It would be hard to describe the implementation of the improvements tied to the bond as anything other than an unmitigated disaster. The bond is not only years behind schedule it is now estimated to be $430 million over budget. Promised projects will not be completed nor meet ever changing deadlines. It would seem that the Broward County School District can’t even provide a safe and healthy environment for students and teachers by fixing the leaking roofs or removing mold from our schools across the county.
It has taken more than 6 years to implement the modest school security improvements promised by Superintendent Robert Runcie back in 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Tragedy.
Some might argue that managing an $800 million bond and the scale of projects the District has undertaken would be challenging for any district. Sure. But is excusing incompetence the best we can do in Broward County?
By comparison, the much smaller school district in Prosper completed a $710 million bond (passed in 2007) which included the construction of 12 new schools, including the $120 million Prosper High School at $120 million, in addition to the recently completed $53 million stadium. They are now building a second new high school to accommodate the growth in students flooding into their district. Competence matters.
But it goes beyond competence. The Broward County School District admits it estimated actual needs of $2 billion dollars, but only asked for $800 million. Some my argue that’s political expediency. I would argue it is cowardice.
It goes further. Rather than focus on school safety after Sandy Hook, Superintendent Runcie and the School Board chose to put money and control over the best interests of student and teacher safety. Others, like Senator Eleanor Sobel were clear that school safety needed to be a priority and didn’t believe the District was capable of competently handling that mission.
Yet the School Board remains defiant.
Why do they remain defiant? They have the full support of the Broward Teachers Union, which will spend big money to protect them despite getting little to nothing in return for their members. They have had the support of Broward’s business leaders that are satisfied parroting statistics offered to them by the District. Never mind that if these business leaders ran their businesses with the level of incompetence displayed by the Superintendent, they would have been fired. And they fear no repercussions from Broward voters.
Some will say, the demographics of the Broward County School District and the Prosper Independent School District are so different you cannot compare them. There’s undoubtedly some truth to this. But differences in demographics cannot explain away the stark differences in achievement between the two districts.
You can’t chalk it all up to demographics. It’s about priorities & leadership. Maybe it’s the successful completion of an infrastructure project. On time/on budget. Maybe it’s creative thinking like selling naming rights to the Prosper High School stadium to a local company in a 10-year deal worth $2.5m.
So, we can argue whether or not a high school needs a $53 million, 12,000 seat stadium. Folks in Prosper would say Prosper High School had no choice but to follow many other districts in Texas in building massive stadiums. By the way some building AND reducing local tax rates. How is that possible?
As I said, it’s about priorities & leadership. But I can’t help but listen over & over to the optimism in the voices of those parents. Wouldn’t a little bit of that be nice around here?
Unfortunately, despite recent excuse making for ineptitude & inaction in the local media, competence and leadership must precede optimism. It’s true of successful sports teams and in the real world.