BOE votes to put Prop W on April ballot

The Board of Education voted unanimously to place Prop W on the April 6 ballot last month. If it passes, the zero-tax-rate increase, $39.4 million bond issue will fund the construction of a new middle school. The BOE’s Jan. 25 decision was met with celebration from the standing crowd at the meeting.

Wydown Middle School’s auditorium lobby, where Jerry Estes teaches his choir classes because of a lack of space.  The BOE voted to place Prop. W, a $39.4 million bond issue, on the April ballot to address this and other issues with the current building. (Photo by Elizabeth Sikora)
Wydown Middle School’s auditorium lobby, where Jerry Estes teaches his choir classes because of a lack of space. The BOE voted to place Prop W, a $39.4 million bond issue, on the April ballot to address this and other issues with the current building. (Photo by Elizabeth Sikora)

“I cried tears of joy,” Wydown principal Mary Ann Goldberg said. “Probably over two thirds of my staff was there, they knew it was a big moment. The Board came out into the audience and hugged teachers and hugged the administrators, and it was one of those really, truly feel good moments.”
The vote was the culmination of a lengthy journey, beginning with the Facilities Master Plan that eventually evolved into Prop S. Wydown’s exclusion from that bond issue led to the formation of Wydown Tomorrow, a committee that proposed two construction options for to the BOE to vote on.
“We are proud of the process that the Wydown Tomorrow Committee undertook and look to it as an example of a thorough, constructive and encompassing public engagement process,” said BOE President Omri Praiss on the District website.
The plan will not raise the property tax rate to generate funding. Instead, the gap between decreasing payments on current bonds and the increasing revenue stream from higher property values will allow for the nearly $40 million expenditure. A new school, with almost 20 percent more green space than the building has now, would be built on the playing field so that the current school could still be used. However, this would mean that the field and track would be taken offline for 31 months and the gym and locker room rendered unusable for 15 months.
With the BOE’s decision, the District will now turn its focus to informing the public about Wydown’s needs and how the bond issue will address them. Clayton School District Director of Communications Chris Tennill said that the District “can tell people to vote, [it] just can’t tell them to vote yes.” Goldberg said that she thinks the biggest challenge facing Wydown and the District is having the community understand the minimal impact that construction will have on students’ education.
“[The biggest challenge is] getting people to understand that teaching and learning will go on, and there may be some disruption, but not until later when they’re working on the theatre and the gym,” Goldberg said.
In a preliminary survey commissioned by the District that surveyed 504 registered voter households, 77.0 percent of respondents said that they would favor a bond issue, knowing that it would not increase the tax rate. The bond issue needs only 57.1 percent of the vote, but Goldberg said the experience with Prop S keeps her from being overly confident.
“I don’t want to throw my eggs in one basket and say ‘It’s all done,’” Goldberg said. “I think every vote’s going to count, we learned about that last year with the passage of the bond issue by two votes.”
Despite the favorable numbers from the survey, an opposition group has already formed, calling itself A Better Plan for Wydown. The group is centered on architect Michael Roth’s alternative plan for WMS that he presented at the Jan. 13 BOE meeting. Roth’s plans would renovate Wydown instead of rebuild it.
“They’re tearing down approximately 104,000 square feet of what we think is rather useful space,” Roth said. “Our plan, basically, is taking that 104,000 square feet and adding 30,000 square feet to it.”
Roth said his plan would only cost $18.5 million and would result in more classrooms than the plan included in Prop W. He added that the group doesn’t believe that Wydown’s problems necessitate a complete rebuild, saying that the classrooms are “fully functional,” although more are needed, and that the District never thoroughly considered a renovation.
“As I understand it, according to the architect who did the work for the District, the District asked for a new building,” Roth said. “The District did not ask, ‘Find us what the best scheme is for renovating or for providing for the students at Wydown.’ It should have been a much broader or global question.”
However, Tennill said that the Wydown Tomorrow committee went through an “exhaustive” study of 10 possible concepts, seven of which involved reusing parts of the existing structure.  He called accusations that the District had ruled out the possibility of a renovation from the beginning “completely inaccurate.”
Roth also outlined what he sees as problems with the District’s plans.  He questioned the plan to put a parking garage underneath the building, calling it a “no-no,” and said that having students enter in the same location where there would be parking will create dangerous situations. He raised issue with the zero-tax-rate increase phrase, saying that it is “tweaking reality” because if the bond issue did not pass or a cheaper option was chosen, taxes would actually go down. Roth also questioned the length of the project and the disruption that it will cause.
Roth said that he offered his services to the Wydown Tomorrow Committee but was told they had sufficient help, and he said the reason he didn’t propose his plans in the summer was that they were not completed. He said that A Better Plan for Wydown will put up signs, canvass and email to spread the word.  An outline of Roth’s plans can be seen below, and the plans included in Prop W as well as answers to frequently asked questions can be found at

Contrasting views of the plans included in Prop W (above) and Roth's plans (below).  (Images courtesy of Michael Roth)
Contrasting views of the plans included in Prop W (above) and Roth's plans (below). (Images courtesy of Michael Roth)

As for other opposition, Goldberg said she saw doubtful community members at the tours of Wydown that she conducted. The survey reported that 14.9 percent of respondents would not support the bond issue because they did not think the school needs to be upgraded, and Goldberg received similar comments.
“There may be some people who think that this doesn’t need to be done,” Goldberg said. “When I did the tours, there were a couple people who said, ‘Oh things look fine, you don’t need to do anything.’”
If the bond issue passes, the in-depth planning process would begin.  According to Goldberg, choosing architecture and construction firms and going through the steps necessary to break ground would likely take many months.
“We’ll have parents involved, I want representative group of students to meet with the architects, all of the different departments will meet and talk about their needs, you know, what the science rooms need to look like, the art rooms, how the theatre is going to be arranged, and that probably will take us into the start of school,” Goldberg said.
Tennill said that construction would not begin until the spring of 2011 and that the project would be done in the fall of 2013. As for now, Goldberg said she will be canvassing on four upcoming Saturdays, going door to door to inform the community about a project that will finally bring her and her staff the type of facility they have long awaited.
“We were always hopeful, but now we’re thinking that there is going to be an answer in the future, if the bond issue passes, that will address the issues that we’ve been dealing with,” Goldberg said. “[The staff] felt that they were listened to, that their concerns were validated, that something really awesome is going to happen for the school.”