Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 30 May 2007 11:50
Even though elements of the timing and circumstances give us pause, we endorse Unified School District 410’s $6.625 million bond issue proposal and urge patrons to vote “yes” when they go to their polling places next Tuesday.
Even district leaders recognize these are not the best of times to bring to this proposal to a vote.
The Easter weekend wheat freeze raises the prospect of an average-at-best harvest, which has cast a pall over the agricultural community as well as the local businesses that depend on that income for a livelihood. The prospect of a voting in property-tax increase is even less appealing than usual.
The fire in late April at the city-owned former AMPI building raises questions about the suitability of that facility to house the district’s central office, maintenance and transportation services, as the district’s plan proposes.
The top administrators at both USD 410 and Tabor College are leaving their positions within the next few months, leaving some to wonder about the long-term success of the unique public-private partnership being forged for a co-owned football and track-and-field facility.
Add to this the board’s admission that the facility changes being proposed are only minimally connected to actual classroom instruction, and we understand why Tuesday’s vote is not a slam-dunk “yes” vote for many district patrons—nor for us to endorse it. Even so, we say the merits outweigh the concerns. In short, here’s why:
The changes being proposed at the elementary school not only will create sufficient classroom space when the state mandates all-day kindergarten, and finally separates the lunch room from the physical-education classroom, they should greatly reduce the danger to our children created by serious traffic-flow issues there.
The current make-do science classroom at the high school, used as a cafeteria through the 1970s, is inadequately designed and equipped for efficient instruction in the modern age.
Several facility issues have to be addressed regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s vote. The current wooden structure on the high school campus that houses the maintenance department and the strength-conditioning classroom and weight room, built in the 1940s, is not financially feasible to maintain. Also, the south end of the running track at Tabor College, which currently is the responsibility of USD 410 to maintain, is deteriorating and would require major dollars to repair.
City leaders have said repairs to the roof and to the fire-damaged portion of the former AMPI building will be pursued whether or not the district becomes a tenant there. The prospect of the district locating there only enhances the aesthetic and economic-development value of the building.
We’re convinced the partnership commitment between USD 410 and Tabor runs significantly deeper than its current chief administrators. Partnership is the only fiscally responsible path for the survival and prosperity of the Hillsboro community and one of its largest industries. Like it or not, the future of the two are intertwined.
We are shortsighted to believe that “learning” takes place only in the classroom. Extra-curricular activities, in this case athletic programs, shape character and physical growth in ways that contribute significantly to the development of the whole person. Yes, HHS athletics can continue to function with the facilities as they are. But this bond issue addresses shortcomings in the overall design of the Robert C. Brown Gymnasium complex—particularly a lack of accessible public restrooms and sufficient locker room space—that enable USD 410 to adequately host the kind of events that bring guests and their dollars to Hillsboro. Likewise, the current football and track-and-field facility is inadequate to meet state requirements for hosting post-season events that would further enhance the local economy and community pride.
Good schools may be one of the most important factors families consider when contemplating their present and future location. We know the programs and environment USD 410 offer make it one of the best school districts in all of Kansas. But facilities make a first, and sometimes lasting, impression. It’s impossible to calculate the impact the proposed enhancements will have on parents who visit Hillsboro. We do know they will help.
No, these are not the best of times to float the current bond proposal before the voters. But these are not the worst of times either. Beyond the immediate financial factors that draw our attention at the moment, we have to ask ourselves a significant question: At what point can we afford to stop thinking progressively as we contemplate the future of our community? When is it OK to say we can make do with the less than what we know can keep us on the growing edge in an extremely competitive world?
Such times may arise. But given the relatively modest impact on our property taxes for the potential gain, we believe this is not the time to back away the challenge. USD 410 patrons, please vote “yes” in the voting booth. —DR