Proposition R: Need, not luxury


On April 2, voters in the Washington School District will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition R--Right Now for Children. Voters will weigh in on two separate questions.

Question 1 would authorize the district to borrow $9 million dollars to upgrade the technology infrastructure throughout the district, to add HVAC to the Augusta School, to build classroom additions to Marthasville Elementary, and to build a new early childhood learning center on the Washington West campus. A yes vote on question 1 would not increase the amount of the tax levy, although it would extend the term on indebtedness.

Question 2 would authorize a $40 million bond issue, the biggest part of which would pay for the construction of a new middle school serving grades 6 though 8, as well as the conversion of the existing middle school to become an elementary school. A yes vote on question 2 would increase the amount of the tax levy by 25 cents per $100 assessed valuation. For a home assessed at $100,000, the increase would amount to $47.50 per year. For personal property assessed at a market value of $20,000 the increase would amount to $16.50 per year.

Let's face it, there's never a good time to go to the taxpayers and ask for a tax increase--especially in this economy. To me, the question is, does the need in the district warrant going to the taxpayers for an increase at this time? Along with that comes another question--what is the impact now and in the future if the proposition fails?

I don't want to give up more of my hard-earned income for frills and luxuries, only for needs. In that sense, I think the Proposition is aptly named Right Now for Children, because the needs truly are immediate.

My kids have all attended parochial schools, and yet the fate and educational quality of our local public school district have a decided impact on our family and our community. As a former real estate broker, I can tell you that the biggest driver of property values is the quality of the local school district--the better the district, the more equity we all have in our homes. More than that, the quality of the district is a big determinant for business and industry in deciding where to build or relocate, which drives local job creation.

In these tough economic times, people have often asked me where all the good jobs have gone. In most cases, they are going to people who are technologically prepared to function in a modern workplace.

Like a lot of people my age, I attended schools that were not air conditioned. I did not take my first computer class until I was a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame--which, by the way, had only one student computer lab on the entire campus back in 1982. Some might ask if such conditions were good enough for us, why can't they be good enough for our kids or grandkids?

The answer to that is we live in a completely different world now. Technology is at the center not only of the modern workplace, but also of our daily lives. In an educational context, technology is not a luxury, it is a need.

Building a new middle school equipped for 6th, 7th and 8th grade enables the district to retire both Southpoint and Fifth Street Schools, and alleviates overcrowding at the remaining district elementaries. This lends itself directly to class sizes, classroom conditions and the quality of teachers wanting to work for the district--all of these have direct impact on educational quality.

I love old historic buildings--I live in one. I also know that retrofitting a technology infrastructure in an old building is challenging and costly. Running a radio station highly reliant on lots of high tech equipment I can tell you how critical it is to have air conditioning to operate it. The same holds true for a school--HVAC is not just for the comfort of students and teachers, without it, expensive equipment can be damaged.

The Washington School District did not draw the maps that included Southpoint Elementary in the 100 year flood plain. It does, however, have to live with the outcome of the new map. In the scenario, getting insurance to cover improvements--if even possible, would be prohibitively expensive.

Sometimes buildings become obsolete to their purpose. Like it or not, such is the case with Southpoint and Fifth Street schools.

Interest rates right now are still very low, but that is not a given for the future. If rates do begin to spike, the costs to implement the necessary projects of Proposition R could skyrocket. It only makes sense to lock them in now.

I don't typically weigh in on these local measures, but in this case, I think the need is important enough, that I am.

On April 2, this fiscally conservative parochial school parent will be voting YES on both questions of Proposition R. This is not only because I think it funds immediate needs that are vital to educational quality within the district, but also because it is important to the longer-term economic health and quality of life in the community.