Is building a new, centralized K-12 school the best way to address the educational needs of St. John’s children? Before we say “yes” let’s make sure we answer some important questions.
Do the parents of Coral Bay and the East End want to close Guy Benjamin School and bus their young children out of town? The proposed school site is a parcel of land is Catherinberg, roughly six miles from Coral Bay. This is often mentioned as desirable because it is not a major population center. Yet that means virtually all the children who attend must come from somewhere else. While Coral Bay and the East End children would have the farthest to go, do the many residents of the Cruz Bay area really want to close Julius Sprauve and bus their children up Centerline Road?
Is this the best use of money? Proponents of this plan are calling for “a new K-12 school, a vocational center, an athletic center, library and other essentials for a school.” I have seen no credible estimate for the costs to build and maintain such extensive facilities, but clearly we are talking about many millions of dollars at an extraordinary cost per student. Putting aside whether it is realistic to expect this level of funding from our financially strapped government, are there better alternatives? Could we upgrade the Guy Benjamin and Julius Sprauve schools? Could Julius Sprauve expand to include grades 9-12? Could we create a charter school for grades 9-12, possibly enticing the Gifft Hill School to join?
Is the proposed site the best site? A 10-acre parcel of National Park land, adjacent to the Catherinberg ruins has been proposed as the best site to build. Can 10 acres really handle a K-12 school, library, athletic center, etc.? Even if more land could be obtained, do we want to develop environmentally and culturally significant land right next to the historically important Catherinberg sugar mill? And is coaxing (coercing?) the National Park to give up this land and violate their mission (“Preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park system”) a precedent we want to set?
Has St. John run out of developmental sites? One premise justifying the appropriation of park land is that St. John has run out of land to develop. Someone must have forgotten to tell that to Grande Bay, Pond Bay and Sirenusa! What level of investigation has been done to determine if there are appropriate sites that could be developed, either vacant or developed land that could be purchased? (Pastory Gardens sure seems anxious to sell.)
Reflecting on this issue I am reminded of the old phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Improving our children’s education is the best of intentions. But if we proceed on that premise alone, without fully examining these and other important questions, I fear we will be “feeling the heat” quickly and for years to come.