As many readers are aware, the Ashland School Board unanimously voted at its Oct. 9 meeting to responsibly divest itself of the Briscoe property on North Main Street. This decision was the culmination of many months of discussion, research and feedback, both within the school district and throughout the community. Although it was not an easy decision, the School Board considered this issue using the same principles that drive all our work: We focused on our mission, our fiduciary responsibility to you and our desire to be a good community partner.
Does it align with our core mission?
Ashland schools exist to provide a world-class education to all our students and prepare them to be successful in whatever they choose to pursue later in life. That is our mission. Every successful organization excels only by keeping a relentless focus on its core mission, and our school district is no different. However, because of several factors, including enrollment patterns, deferred maintenance and the resources needed to provide a 21st century education, the Briscoe building has primarily been a rental property for the past 12 years. Every hour we spend performing the duties of a landlord is an hour that we are not focused on educating kids.
Is it financially responsible, both in the short and long term?
The Ashland community has been generous — time and time again — in supporting our schools and understanding the importance of a quality education. Our School Board does not take this for granted; in fact, it is a constant reminder that we need to carefully use the funding entrusted to us in ways that have the most impact on our kids. This requires focusing our financial and human resources to best serve students. The Briscoe building is past its “useful life” and would require somewhere between $6 million and $10 million of maintenance and repairs to return it to use as a public school. Even if the district had this money available (we don’t!), we feel that district resources would be better spent on facilities that more directly affect Ashland students.
How can we be a good community partner?
A key reason that Ashland students excel is the support and ongoing partnership between our schools and the community. We can’t do what we do without your help, and we try to be a good neighbor in return.
We understand that the Briscoe roots run deep. For this reason, in its decision to divest, the school board clearly articulated our desire to keep Briscoe in the public trust.
While I would love to promise that it will remain as it is for the next 100 years, I don’t believe anyone could make that promise in good conscience, as there are too many unknowns. But we are doing our best — the school district has ordered an appraisal of the property and representatives are now actively engaging city officials to explore the ways that the public can retain ownership of this land and still maximize the value of the property to support our mission. We are doing our very best to find the right balance for everyone.
In short, we feel that it is time for the school district to divest itself of the Briscoe property so we can better focus on our core mission to educate our students and can better use the resources you entrust to us to make the greatest impact we can for our kids. That is our responsibility to you, to our community and to the students we serve.
There is much more to the Briscoe story than a single article can hold. For more complete Briscoe information, please visit www.ashland.k12.or.us and click “Our Community.”
— Jim Westrick has served as a director on the Ashland School Board since 2012.