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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 with 5 Comments »
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.

Leave a comment Comments → 5
  1. reformedliberal says:

    Give us competent, cost-conscious management, and I will support giving the schools money. We don’t have that now.

    The school district has asked for, and received, a BILLION dollars over the last decade.

    A billion dollars. For schools. In Tacoma. And they aren’t even close to the end of their wish list.

    It’s absurd.

  2. And not one penny to finish Wilson High School. First, they rebuild less than half of the school, with most of the $$$ going towards drainage and parking. Then what they DO build doesn’t fit in with the current school or neighborhood, it looks like a juvenile detention facility.
    There are 5 voters in our houshold. ALL 5 will be voting a resounding NO. We’re sick of being on the bottom of the heap. $120Million to revamp “the Castle” and chicken feed for Wilson??? Could it be because there are more wealthy in Stadium’s back yard? We vote too! And we’re NOT missing the chance to send this message.
    FINISH WILSON AND DO IT RIGHT!

  3. sloremodeler says:

    “A must buy” – you have got to be kidding me. How about linking performance to support? As reformedliberal correctly stated, TPS has spent over a BILLION dollars in the last decade. The problem is, graduation rates did not improved (in many cases they got worse) and truancy is amongst the highest, not only for our state, but nationally. Pretty classrooms do not make a good school system. Wow – how can you really say this is a must buy? If I could vote on either of these ballot measures it would also be no – in fact hell no. I support my schools – but it is tied to the quality of the education my kids get.

  4. The high school dropout rate is over 30% statewide and way higher in Tacoma. Among developed nations, America is 4th highest in per capita spending on students, yet American students are 21st in science and 25th in math among the 30 developed nations. Somehow money is not being spent on education and the results are there for everyone to see.

    School boards need to re-connect with families and send a message that educational results must be improved, and education must be an ongoing family discussion.

    I do not know if I am ready to start voting NO on levies, but that day may not be far away if we keep losing ground with our kids.

  5. Andrew, you are right on the mark. There was a time in Tacoma that school levies passed without a question. Twenty years ago, my entire family would be voting “yes” in support of “our schools”.
    A lot has happened over those 20 years though. Enrollment dropped, voters started to get older and worried over their retirement years. When levies WERE passed they were for HUGE amounts and the funds were not spread out equitably. We were happy, then, to wait our turn for “our” school to be refurbished. But, we got second hand, second rate, piece meal construction and a huge grass-lined hole where a building used to be.
    Now, big surprise, the voters have shelled out enough and we must wait until who knows when. It’s unsatisfactory and our vote is NO.

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