“It’s only a game, old sport. It’s all a game.” – “This Sporting Life,” 1963
The devil, they say, is in the details.
Though, in the case of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s Measure E bond-funding priorities, that observation is more of a question:
Was a 2,500-seat sports stadium ever in the details?
Whether it’s a “devil”... well, that depends upon whom you ask.
The proposed stadium, along with other athletics upgrades, have been bandied about for years – and they’ve been a lightning rod from the get go. High School sports boosters salivate at the idea of their kids playing in a first-class prep arena, while neighbors cringe at the thought of noise and lights. And, of course, school-district-spending watchdogs decry money spent lavishly on an after-school activity for a few, while the high school struggles to improve its middling academic standing for all.
As is often in life, there’s a reasonable argument on both sides – academics in a needs-to-be-improving school district are a no-brainer; yet, the athletic facilities at the high school have been neglected for years. Both have to improve at some point.
However, the question today isn’t if the high school’s track sucks. (It does.) The question is whether the voter-approved $120 million Measure E bond funds should be prioritized toward putting as much as 26 percent (or more) toward a stadium and other sports upgrades. And whether voters were clearly aware that this would be the case out of the gate when the district asked for their vote – and their trust – for its fourth bond measure in the last 25 years.
The recent grumblings about this – as the School District has pushed forward with plans to include such sports facilities and pool among its top priorities in Measure E spending – came to a head last week when longtime Sonoma Valley education advocates Gary and Marcia Nelson published three ads in consecutive issues of the Index-Tribune calling for greater school district transparency before the Board of Trustees moves forward with a facilities plan, as it is expected to do Sept. 12.
In the Nelsons’ “open letter to the community” they say, “As the Board of Education’s Measure E Implementation Plan has unfolded, we have become deeply alarmed that the Board’s Trustees are actually proposing to spend a disproportionate amount of the bond money on items that were not featured in their campaign.”
The Nelsons specifically refer to the Measure E ballot text from last year which emphasized computers, technology, classrooms, science labs and the somewhat ambiguous “school facilities,” but reserves not a word for sports. Which begs the question: While sports upgrades have been a focal point for the district since 2010, did officials leave them out of the Measure E campaign?
Let’s return to those thrilling days of yesteryear – the summer of 2016, when we were all a little younger, the “Russia Probe” was nothing more than a Z-grade stag party movie, and the $120 million Measure E campaign was all the rage with school district voters.
The district’s primary campaign pitch was about “warm, safe and dry” school facilities. No one debates this. In fact, those were the campaign marketing taglines.
In a well-reasoned response to the Nelson ads, Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Chuck Young wrote an op-ed in the Index-Tribune Sept. 8 reminding folks that upgrading district sports facilities has been the focus of “at least 100 meetings” over the last several years and, in follow-up emails, Young points out that the Measure E appendix A of the Nov. 8 ballot statement clearly mentioned an intent to “Modernize, renovate, rehabilitate, reconfigure, expand, upgrade and/or equip locker rooms, gymnasiums, physical education/athletic fields and related facilities for school and community use.”