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Columbia Missourian

Dialogue and community input lacking in choice of school site

By Tom Warhover
June 30, 2007 | 12:02 a.m. CDT
Tom Warhover is the Columbia Missourian's executive editor for innovation.

Dear Reader:

Last week, the Missourian reported on a hearing about the school board decision to locate a new high school on South Rangeline Road. The online headline began with “Public unhappy.”

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Any site selected is likely to make someone less than happy. But describing the handful of people at the meeting as the “public” was hardly accurate. In fact, Columbians didn’t have a clue that this particular site was under consideration except for the board, some school staff and the people giving and selling the land.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to get more input before the announcement? But public hearings, such as the one last week, aren’t designed to vet trial balloons. The school board (or City Council or any government agency) usually has a specific plan in mind. So hearings like these are actually public reactions. They aren’t even very public, because so many people I meet say the deal’s done. Why waste time if officials are going one direction anyway?

I hope the site selection sparks reaction. Our schools define Columbia in so many ways. I’ve met many friends through a sideline sport or school program of one of my kids. Developments grow around quality schools. The first question any parent coming to Columbia has deals with what school zones they want to live in. Or at least that’s been my experience.

We have just two other general purpose public high schools. A third is an event for the history of the community.

Some of the unhappy people last week asked why the school shouldn’t go on the north side of town. Reasonable question. After all, there is a bumper crop of houses off Rangeline to the north, while South Rangeline remains relatively open. Other questions, such as the lack of infrastructure such as roads, came up.

The Missourian story quoted board member Michelle Gadbois as calling it a “healthy dialogue.” Six official comments, though, doesn’t make much of a healthy dialogue. Love or hate the site, I hope lots of people weigh in.