One thing is clear from the second round of meetings on the Hamilton County School district's potential 10-year master facilities plan: The community still is unable to realistically deal with it.
"We want what we want how we want it" is no longer an acceptable position for parents and community members about the district's 74 schools that, if left alone, would cost an estimated $1.36 billion to run over the next 10 years.
The number of schools must be reduced and the capacity of others better used if the district is to achieve Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson's goal of making sure "all learning environments [are] excellent."
Emotionally, the strategy of leaving things as they are is understandable. No one has to go more out of the way than they already do in getting their children to school. No one has to consider moving if they want their children to attend the same school program. No one has to endure one child attending a school different from the school a sibling attends. No one has to worry about their child attending a school with students with whom they are unfamiliar.
But this is no longer sustainable, and many people in the district, on the school board and in government have known it for years. Many of the schools in the facilities assessment conducted at the Hamilton County Board of Education's request by MGT Consulting Group are rated either poor or unsatisfactory. Continuing to pour money into them is the worst of all solutions.
Right-sizing the school district is hard work, admittedly. It should have been done years ago, but previous administrations, school boards and the community lacked the courage to take on the difficult decisions. We salute Johnson, his administration and current school board members for doing so.
And while some board members might grumble behind the scenes about MGT's suggestions for schools in their individual districts, we haven't heard much public angst from individual members. That tells us they understand what must be done, even if the final t's haven't been crossed and the i's dotted.
When the final recommendations by MGT are made to the school board in March, and if there were money available to implement them just as they are recommended, some parents, students and community members will be unhappy. Even after their pleadings, their child's school will be closed, or merged or a program moved across the river. Some others will be happy. Their pleadings and those of others will have prompted revisions in what is recommended, and their child's school or program will not be changed.
But not unlike life itself, you can't always get what you want.
What also seems to be lost on community members upset about potential changes with their child's school is that they involve — at minimum — a 10-year, phased plan. A change recommended by MGT and adopted by the school board, assuming money would be available, may not occur until 10 years from now. A child just starting a K-8 or K-12 program will either be out of that school or nearly ready to graduate by the time the particular change happens.
For a certainty there additionally is this: No moves legitimately can be made without funding from the Hamilton County Commission. A plan that is adopted by the school board with a request for funding to implement the first phase of the facilities plan may fall on deaf ears by commission members, or they may like it so much they want to get it all done, or they want to do part of it but not all of it.
To do any or all of it, or just to take a big swing at the current maintenance needs of the schools, takes money. A funding request for an additional several hundred staff members and other needs for the district was not met by the commission in the form of higher property taxes last year.
However, facilities needs involving new, renovated, replaced or repurposed schools, and relocated programs, will require funding beyond what is annually provided by state and local governments. That is likely to require increased revenue, whether that be from higher property taxes, a wheel tax or any combination of other creative financing methods.
In other words, the future completion of a 10-year facilities master plan is only the end of the beginning. Life will go on. But parents and community members need to understand that some things will change. And just as they figure out what to do when a sick child has to stay home from school or when the car breaks down or when this year's vacation has to be Gatlinburg instead of Aspen, they'll deal with it.
And they might just find, as with the Rolling Stones' lyrics, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need."