Statement at the 7-10-18 Public Hearing on Land Acquisition

In order to promote conversation and encourage our elected officials, local concerned citizens formed ForHHS2, which means the Future of Rocktown is a second Harrisonburg High School (HHS2). On behalf of ForHHS2, I am happy City Council is moving forward with the land acquisition. Building a second high school is the best option for Harrisonburg considering our current overcrowding and expected growth within our city school district. We are excited Council is moving forward on purchasing the land, and we look forward to city residents being involved in the process of envisioning Harrisonburg as a two high school community.

Our group will continue to post information about the land acquisition and plans for the high school. We would like City Council to move forward quickly to relieve the current overcrowding. By 2022, more than half the high school population (800 students) will be educated in trailers outside the current facility. The need is very real; continual progress is necessary to maintain the high standard of education within our city. We encourage citizens to connect with ForHHS2 and to get involved in the planning process with school board. City Council members: we hope you approve the land acquisition, and work with school board to fully fund a second high school as soon as possible.

Valentine Themed Signs

In case you need some festive holiday signs ForHHS2. Add your own message in the blank heart. Print, distribute, and display everywhere. We’ll have some at the Feb. 13th City Council meeting. See you there!

HeartSignsColor (all the candy heart colors; just hit print)

HeartSignsBlackWhite (black ink only; print on festive colored paper!)

Revote Needed on High School

photo credit: Olivia Comer

The recent decision by City Council to delay funding a new high school by two years is unacceptable for Harrisonburg’s students. Ensuring the quality of education of children all across our great city is crucial for their prosperous growth and development into successful and productive citizens.  

The only public high school in Harrisonburg is at least 32% over capacity. Students take secondary stairs to avoid jammed hallways during passing periods, activity and athletic teams travel two hours one way to compete against schools of similar sizes, and its parking lot is raining classroom trailers costing hundreds of thousands of the city’s dollars. For example, the addition of six new trailers (to the already existing nine) will cost the city approximately $300,000 to install. This cost is in addition to trailer leasing fees, including a bathroom trailer for $25,000 a year. 

Over the years, Dr. Kizner, School Board members and the community have been speaking openly to the issue of overcrowding in multiple forums. Meanwhile, pressure from outside interests, including Students Over Structures (SOS), have tried to influence the city’s decision.

SOS disguises the fact that outside interests are orchestrating the anti-school campaign by creatively funding it through multiple limited liability corporations. 

Exposing some myths about the SOS opposition group may help City Council defend its children from a group reluctant to see a decrease in their city-derived profits, as they have publicly stated themselves. The city’s children are not their market.  

Myth #1: SOS states that it is composed of “individuals,” when in fact, it is a registered political action committee, receiving $19,950 in contributions from six corporations, some of whom are not headquartered or controlled by city residents. 

Myth #2: SOS takes “pride in not being a particular political party.”  In truth, according to its public records, the only two paid individuals are both intricately tied to the Republican party: Cole Trower, who worked for Representative Bob Goodlatte, was paid $4,000 and another $6,300 was paid to “Free Market Solutions” at the same Norfolk mailing address as Mr. Trower. SOS also paid $500 to Jacob Neff, of the Bridgewater College Republicans. In addition, Greg Coffman, Harrisonburg Republican Committee Chair, has given multiple media interviews opposing a new school. In a parallel anti-school effort, the Republican Party paid for ads disparaging a new city high school.  

Myth #3: SOS claims that it is “a diverse group of individuals of all races.”  This is simply not the case. The SOS financial contributors and public spokespersons simply do not reflect the ethnicity of HHS. 

HHS overcrowding has been here for several years, and not pending in some gauzy future. 

The decision to delay funding a new high school by two years is poor stewardship of our resident’s money as it may ultimately cost an additional $7 million depending on inflation, and projected increases in labor and material costs.  Combined with the interim band-aid solutions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to alleviate the current overcrowding situation, the decision is neither fiscally responsible nor logistically plausible. 

I strongly encourage Harrisonburg City Council to vote again to build a new high school by 2021.    

Ken Rutherford is a Harrisonburg High School parent.

ForHHS2’s Reaction to Council’s Vote on 1/23/18

ForHHS2 is disappointed in the result from last night’s City Council meeting. There is a misconception that Council voted ‘YES’ for a second high school; however, the motion that passed included a budget for a 2021 open with a timeline of 2023. This motion is not viable.

We appreciate that all Council members now agree overcrowding needs to be solved post haste, and we welcome conversations about fiscal responsibility. We question the validity of the financial reports presented at last night’s meeting. City staff did not include measures to reflect adjustments for inflation, building costs, or actual operational costs for the public to review. In addition, it doesn’t include a analysis of the risks represented by delaying construction for two more years.

We are interested in how School Board will respond to this vote, and we suggest Council and School Board organize a joint session with a public forum to listen to the community, clarify the impact of the delay, and discuss the matter further.

ForHHS2 still believes our students and the crisis of overcrowding should be priority one. Furthermore, we believe in having access to top quality public education. For this, we invite all the residents of Harrisonburg—teachers, students, and advocates to fight for our children’s access to quality education by contacting City Council members.

Investing in quality education is our most valuable asset and if Council is really serious about this issue, they should respect the process that School Board has conducted in analyzing the many different possible solutions.

Another Voice from our Community

As a parent of a Skyline Middle School 6th grader, I am writing to support the immediate — not delayed — funding of a second high school.
My wife and I both grew up in a relatively small town on the central coast of California. Population of our town while we were growing up hovered between 25,000 – 35,000 residents (when surrounding county residents that fed into the school district were included — yes, about HALF the size of Harrisonburg). And we had TWO high schools. In fact, my father was recruited as an administrative dean of students for the newly opened high school when I was just 5 years old. So I know what it’s like to move into and live in a small community and enjoy the benefits of a high school that WASN’T overcrowded. A school where students could choose to participate in any number of clubs and activities because there was room for them, there were advisors, and there was opportunity to try and to succeed… because there was SPACE.
Even when California’s Proposition 13 was enacted and the source of school funding was drastically altered across the state, our two-high-school community endured. And I believe students have always benefitted from smaller class sizes, multiple sports teams (that competed against each other in friendly cross town rivalries), thriving arts programs, industrial arts, agriculture, business classes —you name it, BOTH schools had it. And I got a good education. Correction, a GREAT education… and one free of teaching to state mandated SOL tests (but I digress).
And now I want the same for my son and his classmates here in Harrisonburg. I know of the challenges faced by HHS food service simply to schedule, feed and seat as many students as they currently serve daily at HHS. I see the trailers parked on the HHS campus and wonder if my son will be relegated to those classrooms. I wonder how he and his needs won’t be further pushed to the side while the desires of the “no tax increase ever” local business crowd try to influence this decision based on short-term economic scare tactics. 
As a self-employed small business owner myself, I don’t buy those false arguments. One can look to the “never tax” states of Kansas and Missouri to see what happens when education funding gets held back by powerful no-tax lobbies: infrastructure crumbles, teachers move away, test scores plummet and communities LOSE jobs. I don’t want that for Harrisonburg and I don’t believe you do, either.
The time to act is now. Vote ‘YES’ on January 23rd so we can open HHS2 in 2021 and be ready to support both of our high schools!