High school hijinks

It’s hard to understand how things went so awry with Chico’s planned third comprehensive high school, so imagine trying to explain it to the children who campaigned for it back in 1998. Oh, wait. … They’ve probably graduated from college by now.

The heavily publicized bond rallied the community to relieve overcrowding and create smaller “learning communities,” a philosophy long supported by the Chico Unified School District. Now, the CUSD is rethinking the entire project.

What was budgeted for $40 million is now tabbed at $87 million, reported the CUSD’s new superintendent, Chet Francisco, at the Nov. 2 school board meeting. He also reminded trustees that the 50 acres at Bruce Road and the Skyway were bought with developer fees, not bond dollars—a distinction that could perhaps leave the door open for doing something else with the land. One possibility, Francisco mentioned, is to have architects design a school in two phases, with each capable of housing 700 students.

We remember clearly the elation expressed by supporters of public education in Chico when the bond passed in 1998. The idea of not building the school, after two failed bond measures and such a hard-fought victory, would have been unthinkable then.

But what a difference seven years makes. Environmental constraints and miscommunication held up the purchase of the land for the school. The state economy took a nosedive, along with CUSD enrollment. At the time of the bond the district had predicted an enrollment of 19,000 students, including 5,200 high schoolers by 2015. Instead, those projections have been revised to 3,700 high school students—actually a decline in a population that now stands at 4,400.

It’s OK to hold off on building another high school, especially when it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars the district doesn’t have just to staff it. But the cost of building is getting more expensive by the day. We urge the district to weigh the information it has and plot out several scenarios rather than take a wait-and-see approach. Remember, things change.