GRAVES: Plans are nothing; planning is everythingMuch of what one plans for never comes to pass. This is not because planning is useless but rather that it is by its very nature contingent and the number of contingencies in any hypothetical scenario forces you to plan for dozens of possibilities.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
A long time ago in superintendent school, specifically a course called The School Superintendency, my fellow pupils and I studied lists of activities which were meant to describe the core activities of school leaders. Some such lists were very “meat and potatoes,” including budgeting, drawing bus routes, figuring tax levies, etc. Other lists took a loftier tack with such terms as communicating, motivating and organizing items which were no less true but much less specific. A few terms, however, crossed over and one of those was “planning.”
I don’t innately enjoy planning, probably because I can’t help noticing that much of what one plans for never comes to pass. This is not because planning is useless but rather that it is by its very nature contingent and the number of contingencies in any hypothetical scenario forces you to plan for dozens of possibilities only one of which will become an actuality. But had you not planned for all of them, you would not have planned for the actual outcome. Additionally, you quite literally would not, you could not, have understood the situation you would be facing. This latter point is perhaps the most important part of planning.
It is also the point Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man forced to plan for scenarios, which stretched the boundaries of human abilities to and beyond the breaking point, made when he noted, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
Hence, I must accept that the plan I offered to the Mitchell school board and public Monday night is unlikely to resemble any result that will ever come about. As I say that, two plans were actually offered, one on a Mitchell High School campus concept and another on a new instructional paradigm, which some are calling mass customized learning. Allow me to discuss the former in this article and the latter in an article to come some weeks in the future.
To understand why I, along with other school officials, are currently planning for a new high school when we aren’t forecasting construction for such until 2025 — more than a decade out — it is necessary to step back in time 20 to 25 years. In the ’80s and early ’90s, Mitchell faced a problem. It had three aging elementary schools whose life spans, in the opinions of many people (I know little about the buildings myself) had come to an end. Thus, the district pursued a strategy of replacing all three, though with two larger buildings, all at once which stretched finances to such a degree that borrowing against capital outlay bonds was insufficient and the degree of the necessary tax increase made the passage of a bond issue difficult or impossible. Had the district, instead of arriving at the edge of such an abyss all at once, saved for a rainy day and replaced the first building 10 years prior to that point, the second at that point, and the third 10 years afterwards, the result may have been different. Why didn’t it? In my view, the only answer to that question is a lack of planning.
In 2025, the Mitchell School District will face the need to replace its high school. At present values, that will be a $35 million to $40 million ticket item, the single most expensive item in the life of a school district. The high costs result from a combination of factors including size, specialty areas (science and CTE labs, gymnasia), parking, etc. If any eventuality demanded planning, it is this one.
So here is one such plan. First, adopt a campus concept, meaning that more than a single structure serves the needs for our high school scholars. The former MTI North Campus building will be the location for career and technical education, Second Chance High School, and others as space allows. The athletic complex remains where it is and, with a new stadium, no further work is necessary there.
Second, construct a new fine arts center in the south parking lot of the current high school in 2016. Given the fact that Mitchell has the best fine arts program among the large schools of the state (admittedly a biased view of mine) and the worst fine arts facility (a much less biased view), the need for a new, improved facility has arrived. Such a facility would cost around $13.5 million. The district could borrow against its capital outlay certificates $7 million of this, meaning we would need to find $6.5 million in private contributions to make this a reality. This is a tall order but not an impossible one.
Finally, having paid off most of the district’s past debts for elementary schools and other construction, except that incurred for the fine arts facility, and having placed significant reserves in the bank between now and 2025, the district could then construct a new high school on its current campus with no or minimal property tax increases. In large part, this is possible because without the fine arts, CTE and other facility needs — which require some of the largest square footages of any high school program — the resulting high school to be built would be of a much smaller size and thus come at a much reduced cost.
To those several people who have already pointed out to me that my few remaining locks of dark brown hair are vanishing into silver and that I am unlikely to be sitting in my current chair in 2025, I quite agree. But while I will unlikely be manning a shovel at the groundbreaking for the new MHS, there is no excuse for staring at such a long-term challenge and not beginning the process of planning for it, of letting the abyss approach and leaving it for the next poor sucker.
Planning, as Ike noted, is everything. Which is not to say that this plan is the correct one. I hope for and I expect a great deal of input to alter and improve these ideas. For Eisenhower’s were not the only famous quotes regarding planning. Thomas a Kempis weighed in with one that helps us all find humility in the planning process:
“Man proposes, but God disposes.”
Or, as Woody Allen paraphrased him:
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”