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Even in slump, schools are a must buy

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Jan. 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
January 15, 2010 5:48 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition

Tacoma and Lakewood-area voters will find major school construction measures on their Feb. 9 ballots. Both deserve approval.

Some priorities must be funded in good times and bad, and education is one of them. Recessions come and go; a child has only one childhood in which to attend decent schools equipped with modern technology.

This isn’t a great time to ask voters to keep on paying for bricks and mortar. But in one respect, it’s the ideal time. The international economic slump has lowered the cost of just about everything connected with construction; a dollar spent now will buy more than it did a few years ago or will a few years hence. If these measures pass, the savings would be locked in place long after the economy has bounced back.

The Tacoma School District is asking for a school-improvement levy that would raise a projected total of $140,400,000 over six years. The money would replace Baker and Hunt middle schools, both more than 50 years old and showing their age. Washington Elementary would get a much-needed overhaul.

Other improvements would be spread across the district: new computers and information systems that enhance learning, replacement of failing roofs, disability access, overhauls of obsolete plumbing and heating system, and many other essentials.

Tacoma had a long history of supporting school construction measures until 2006, but a bond measure failed that year, and another failed last year. It’s now been nine years since Tacomans approved a construction measure, and the district is falling far behind on a strategic plan to keep aging schools reasonably up to date. Tacoma’s schoolchildren badly need this levy.

Clover Park’s $92 million bond measure would maintain – not raise – the current tax rate.

The money would rebuild Hudtloff Middle School, which at 52 years old requires $50,000 a year to keep its obsolete electrical and heating systems running. Rebuilding the school from the ground up would allow big improvements in its science, technology, music and sports programs.

The measure would create a single new building to replace the old Oakwood and Southgate elementary schools, both of which need replacing. Consolidating the two would save the district $300,000 a year on overhead – money far better spent in classrooms.

The bonds would also pay for the creation of Harrison Preparatory Academy to house a rigorous, academics-intensive sixth-through-12th-grade program. Harrison would operate in partnership with Clover Park Technical College, sharing property and other resources.

Schools are the heart and soul of cities. When they are kept up, it says much about the value a community places on its young. When schools are allowed to slide into decrepitude, that also says much. Tacoma and Lakewood can’t afford not to pass these measures.

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