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Editorial: Enota inaction is building frustration
Gainesville school leaders stuck in endless debate over school's reconstruction
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Whether in business or in government, it’s often best to make a decision and live with the result rather than dither over it forever. While bad choices surely are to be regretted, nothing is worse than sitting on your hands and making no decision at all. The old phrase used by card players is “Think long, think wrong.”

And when it comes to rebuilding Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, that’s what Gainesville school district leaders have been doing.

Plans to renovate the 60-year-old elementary school remain on hold, months after the debate began. The original building plans involved grading that would destroy the beloved Smartville Garden. It was met with sharp opposition from some community members and faculty who wanted the board to consider revised plans that would save the garden. Others with the school want to proceed with building plans as written to get the new school under way.

At first, school board members balked at any potential changes, saying such revisions would not be cost-effective. Then at a hastily scheduled meeting June 2 that was poorly publicized and sparsely attended, and did not list Enota on the agenda, the board chose to move forward with the original building plans. Then it hesitated again and debated some more. Yet another discussion is set for the Sept. 6 work session.

Throughout the process, many community members have expressed frustration that the board has failed to give those with a stake in the project a full opportunity to share their views, a contention board members dispute. But if enough people feel that way, something is clearly amiss.

Government transparency is vital when taxpayer dollars are being spent. Community residents are paying for this school and should have a say in its plans. Even if everyone can’t get their way, they all deserve a seat at the table.

Yet it appeared the board, in its torpor of decision-making, chose to leave people in the dark and avoid conversation or confrontation rather than encourage an open discussion. Now school leaders seem caught in the headlights, unable to make a final decision on how to move forward.

There are but a few options to ponder. They can go with the original plan, though the garden supporters deserve a full and honest explanation why it’s necessary to destroy Smartville. Or, they can admit those folks are right and adopt altered building plans that would save all or part of the garden.

If there’s a compromise that could split the difference and appease the garden’s backers, it’s past time to find it and make it happen. At last week’s board retreat, members decided to meet with the architects and engineer to discuss their options, which may produce such a choice. Once that information is gathered, a path needs to be chosen so school construction can move forward.

As popular as the garden may be, the need for a school building that meets the present and future needs of students and staff, and facilitates the best possible learning experience, is the highest priority. The current Enota school is crumbling and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

This issue is about more than just Enota or the garden. It’s about school officials operating in an open, effective manner and remaining responsive to city residents. Clearly there’s some dysfunction there, which has handicapped the ability to finalize Enota plans.

At one point over the summer, the board failed to approve two sets of meeting minutes when members said they wanted to reopen discussion on the Enota project. A self-assessment showed a majority of members believe the district has communication and public relations problems, and ranked eight of 17 standards as “needs improvement.”

So they know there’s a problem. Now the question city residents, Enota parents and faculty want to ask is: What are they going to do about it?

The garden issue has become the tail wagging the dog. If the garden must be sacrificed, make that call, explain it fully and move on. Once a new school is in place, efforts can be made to save as many elements of the current garden as possible, then rebuild a new Smartville that is bigger and better than it was before.

It’s the job of elected leaders to gather all input and information necessary, make a decision and implement it. They can’t follow a “mob rule” mentality of trying to appease the loudest voices in the room in an attempt to please everyone. At some point, it’s time to decide what is the right course and make it happen, even if it’s unpopular.

That, in fact, is the very definition of leadership. Gainesville school leaders need to show some and find a way to build a much-needed new school for its students in a manner that respects the public’s views and tax dollars.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas.

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