Good decisions? Bad decisions? Sometimes, only time will tell
By Steven Hoffman
This week, the Avon Grove School Board is expected to make a decision about a facilities plan for the district. If everything goes as expected, the school board will vote to build a new high school on the Sunnyside Road site. Those who wanted the school district to build a new high school will laud it as a good decision. Those who were opposed to the project, primarily because of the costs, will say that it’s a bad decision. And then, at some point four or five years from now, students will enter the newly constructed state-of-the-art school. A plaque with the names of the school board members will be placed somewhere near the front of the building. On the day the school opens, it will be celebrated, and rightly so.
But determining whether it was a “good decision” or a “bad decision” to invest in a new high school won’t be easy. Ever. That's because the truth is that decisions about projects like this one are rarely “good” or “bad.” They are, instead, somewhere in between those two extremes, and the passing of time and the changing of a few factors can make once looked like a good decision a bad one, and what once looked like a bad decision a good one.
Consider: About 20 years ago, the Avon Grove School Board extensively discussed building a new high school. The board ultimately decided to renovate the building instead.
That decision kept taxes lower at the time. If the board hadn’t made that decision back then, it would have been unlikely that the district could have had seven budgets without a tax increase over an 11-year period.
So renovating was a good decision, right?
Except that not long after the building was renovated, Avon Grove’s high school enrollment increased to the point where it was far too crowded. The renovation back then meant that the building lacked the space necessary for the academic programs that the administration wanted to offer―particularly STEM programming.
Renovating the school meant that students attended a school with poor building conditions and portable classrooms.
Renovating the school back then also directly led to the school board’s decision to build a new high school now, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars more than what it would have cost back in 1997.
In fact, if the school board would have decided to build the high school back then, it would likely be paid off by now.
So the renovation work that looked so smart in 1997 didn't look nearly as wise in 2017.
These decisions that school boards, borough councils, and township boards make can be deemed successes or failures, good decisions or bad decisions, but it’s best to allow some time to pass before verdicts or rendered.
What is certain about the Avon Grove School Board’s decision is that district officials followed a lengthy process to get the most information possible to make the best decision. It was an inclusive, open process. At the end of the day, all a stakeholder in the district could ask is that the school board members made a decision that they felt was in the best long-term interests of the students and the community, and in this case it appears that that's exactly what the Avon Grove School Board has done.