Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor: Feb. 15 — The school bond

A new school is essential now

Our household received our ballots for the VISD bond issue today. Because the renovation of the high school is critical to our community, we are writing to urge our Vashon neighbors to vote in favor of the district’s proposal. 

As Ken Zaglin wrote in his excellent op-ed piece last week, everyone can come up with concerns about the plan. However, the school board’s decision-making process was thorough and deliberate. As a result, we can be confident that the alternative presented is reasonable and provides the best way to address the serious deficiencies of the present high school campus. While not all elements of the plan may seem essential, the cost for the “extras” does not increase the tax burden significantly.

Some believe that the poor condition of the high school is due to past neglect of routine maintenance. Even if this is true, the larger problem remains: The facility was poorly designed in the first place, and it is old and beyond its useful life. Our students and their teachers should not be punished for the failures of past decision makers.

Others use the deteriorating economy to justify their opposition, but future costs will only increase. Now is the time to take advantage of lower construction costs due to the slowdown in the building industry. Homeowners who face hardship due to fixed incomes should contact the King County Assessor’s office for information on tax deferral and exemption programs.

As citizens, we bear a responsibility to provide for the education of future generations. Our youngest child will be a junior next fall, so our family will not benefit directly from a rebuilt high school. In spite of this, we will gladly pay our fair share of this community investment. As Robert Kennedy asked, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

— Susan Doerr and Tim Sullivan

Intelligence takes many forms

Our Island’s lively school bond debate has at times pitted “classrooms” against “gyms.” Recent educational research, however, holds that each enhances the other. We need both. And more.

For a generation now we have known there is no single thing called “intelligence.” There is instead for each of us an intelligence profile consisting of no less than seven distinct intelligences. (See Howard Gardner’s “Frames of Mind.”)

Gardner defines intelligence as an inborn predisposition of the brain to absorb particular kinds of information and to process it in a specific place in the brain, a place that we may see at work if we use magnetic imaging technology.

When I asked Dr. Gardner some years ago how we high school teachers should employ his discoveries in our classrooms, he said, “Play to each student’s strengths, but have everyone practice each intelligence regularly.”

So every day each student should get practice in:

1. Linguistic intelligence; i.e. reading and writing

2. Logical/mathematical intelligence

3. Spatial intelligence, i.e. geometry, art, shop and engineering

4. Musical intelligence

5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, i.e. athletics

6. Interpersonal intelligence, i.e. the ability to get along with, to “read” others.

7. Intrapersonal intelligence, i.e. keen awareness of our thoughts and feelings, imagination.

Thus, according to Gardner, our gifted student writers will grow best if given lots of practice writing as well as regular physical exercise. The gifted athlete will grow best if given lots of athletic practice as well as regular mathematics, etc. Development in one area enhances development in other areas.

Our Island school bond is absolutely correct to include improvements in both classrooms and physical education facilities.

— James Hauser

Scale back the plan and try again

Given all of the favorable press the school bond issue has received lately, it is time to take another look at this proposal from a different perspective.

Back Bay Inn closed; Napa Auto Parts closed; Kathy’s Corner is in trouble. Some of the larger businesses on the Island have laid off people. Real estate values and sales are significantly down. The overall income level of the Island population is in decline.

The Island’s economic future is at the very least uncertain and at the worst in trouble.

Student enrollment numbers are forecast to decline significantly over the next few years. Student achievement is down in several areas. Does this sound like a prudent time for taking on more debt ?

Consider that one time the school district had a “Caddy,” but because of their “deferred maintenance” policy, they let the high school facilities deteriorate into an old but still functioning Chevy. Now they effectively want to refurbish/build another Caddy that you and I will have to pay for.

Take a look at Hilary Emmer’s numbers that were published in her recent commentary in The Beachcomber. They make sense and will give you a sobering idea of what this debt will mean to you and me personally.

If this bond issue were to pass and the property tax increases turn out to reflect Emmer’s numbers more than the school district’s numbers, who do we send the bill to for the difference ?

There is nothing in this bond issue that is so urgent that it must be passed now at this time of such economic uncertainty. It should be scaled way back and brought up before voters again when the Island’s economic health returns.

How do you think this nation got into trouble in the first place? By buying far more on credit than it could pay for. Are we so soon forgetting this lesson?

— Douglas E. Larsen

Is the school truly short on space?

The Beachcomber’s recent coverage of the bond debate attributes the statement “the seven-building high school is crowded” to the chair of the Vashon school board. This is from the school district that reports they have plenty of extra space for out of district (off-Island) students to our state officials? Students whose families will not be assessed anything if this bond issue passes. 

So which is it, the school is too crowded for the current resident student body, and we need more space, or there is room for extra, non-resident students?

— William Lyell

Now is a good time to build

Here are a few things to think about when you decide how to vote on the high school bond.

As a civil engineer, I can confirm that construction costs have dropped dramatically in the last year. We haven’t seen a bidding climate like this in years, and we probably won’t see it again for many more.

Some feel that the project has too many add-ons like the the secondary gym. I won’t try to change your mind, but I will say this: If we vote no, there will be a scaled-down project in a few years, and all of us will probably pay more taxes for less school.

We have the opportunity to buy low and spread the payments out over 20 years — through good times and bad. If you don’t think we should ever replace the high school, then I won’t argue with you. But if you think we ought to occasionally fix things that are broken, the financially sensible time to do that is now.

We are currently in a recession. We can take the Katrina approach — sit by idly and hope that the federal government will bail us out or that things will run their course.

Or we can recognize that the way to get out of a recession is to create jobs and decide to do our part. Replacing the high school will benefit our children, invest in our future and create good-paying construction jobs.

Finally, whether or not you have children, there is a simple moral argument. We “adults” have taken a lot from the next generation, all of it without their permission. We’ve used up most of the clean water, timber, minerals and fossil fuels.

We haven’t cleaned up after ourselves very well. And to top it off, we’re leaving them with the largest national debt in the history of the world. The very least we can do is replace their high school before it falls apart.

— Henry Perrin

Athletic facilities are important

Why do we need decent athletic facilities for the kids on Vashon? Read what a New York Times article stated on March 17, 2005: “For the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents, according to a new report, which contends that the rapid rise in childhood obesity, if left unchecked, could shorten life spans by as much as five years.”

I grew up in Seattle during a time when girls were cheerleaders, and boys were athletes. Now, I watch my 10-year- old great-niece play basketball and see not only the confidence it builds in her but also the physical power that aerobic exercise affords her.

I am puzzled by the argument that we need better classrooms, schools without mold, secure buildings, but not better access to decent sports facilities. With the constant drone of the ravages of childhood obesity in this country, where is the community responsibility to provide venues where kids can safely run and discover how it feels to be breathless and powerful while exercising and having fun? Kids need both the opportunity for an outstanding education and the opportunity to stay or become healthy.

Would you vote down the bond in order to save those few dollars a month, which reflect 10 percent of the entire bond issue? There is no question that this is the toughest economic time in our generation, unless you were alive during the Depression. Paying for this bond will certainly take some sacrifice in our household. Nonetheless, we have chosen to live on an Island with a small population. With this choice comes responsibility, not just for these kids now, but to all future Vashon kids.

I urge you to vote for the whole package. It’s as good as it gets.

— Barbara Thal Schroeder

It’s up to us to fund good schools

It may be very hard for some to decide about the school bond issue. Some may vote “no” because they cannot afford an increase in their taxes. Hilary Emmer (Feb. 11) writes that she will vote “no” because of the poor job the board and district have done in managing past projects. It is not clear to me what she sees as a solution to current problems in the high school, or if she feels there is a need for any action at all.

While the economic question will be hard, I’m bothered by the split that some are making between academics and athletics. It’s true that for years schools across the country have been eliminating arts programs and athletics to save money and to focus on core (testable) academic subjects. But recently there has been an explosion of brain research about how people learn, and it all stresses the importance of teaching arts and athletics, along with academic subjects.

The front-page Beachcomber article of February 11 quotes a self-described “running jock” as saying that he survived at a school that didn’t have a track at all. OK, but the problem with an anecdote like that is we don’t know how many other students at his school may have suffered because of the lack of facilities. An artist is quoted as saying that we “can have a good education without all the athletic facilities.” But would eliminating the arts department be an acceptable way to economize? Many schools think it is.

I’m voting “yes,” and I’m glad that it is a single-question vote. A good education includes academics, arts and athletics. Kids need strong programs and good facilities, and it’s up to us to find a way to provide them and take care of them.

— Fred Strong

Think again before voting ‘yes’

Here are four arguments worth examining before checking the school bond ballot:

1) Dropping property values and fewer housing starts are depressing Vashon’s tax base, yet the $75.5 million bond and interest will remain the same. For a $500,000 home, the annual tax of $955 could jump much higher. This impact needs a fresh analysis. 

2) With no census data, current enrollment projections are guesses. Enrollment may decrease because of fewer new residents, fewer off-Island students due to looming teacher and program cuts and more Island kids going to private schools for the same reason. More conservative projections should reconfigure the schools and save money in new construction.

3) By raising the entire bond up front, there is little incentive to go after economic stimulus money such as the $45 billion injected into the State Equalization Fund or grants available for sports facilities.

4) The maintenance costs of oversized or non-vital infrastructures will strain what look like dismal budgets for the next few years. What teachers or programs will need to be cut to keep the new infrastructure running?  

The schools will suffer more from the budget knife than from losing a bond vote. A no vote will force the board to come back with a more palatable bond package. But if the bond passes, the cost/benefits of the bond package need to be reassessed before signing a design and build contract. This means factoring a devalued tax base, looking at creative options to house a smaller student body, seeking matching funds and factoring maintenance costs in a rough fiscal period.  

— Ken Pritchard

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