Bond measures will strengthen our schools

Soon you will receive a ballot asking you to vote on two propositions related to school facilities. Your ballot must be postmarked no later than Feb. 8.

Speaking as a citizen and school leader with a deep commitment to public education, I am going to give you some reasons to support both Propositions 1 and 2 of the School Facilities Bond.

The need is critical

From any perspective — the learning environment, energy efficiency, technology capabilities, safety, security — our buildings and building systems at the high school are just plain worn out. Some of the seven classroom buildings are past their useful life spans. Frankly, when I became superintendent last year, I was shocked to learn about the antiquated systems in some of these buildings. Only half of them have fire repression systems. Most have failing heating and ventilation systems. On the other hand, the largest existing (octagonal-shaped) main building can be successfully renovated and modernized.

Consolidating classroom space into a new building is essential for effective teaching and learning today and in the future. It fosters networking, collaboration, problem solving — all the skills our students need to succeed. It will provide quality science labs and classrooms of adequate size. It will centralize our resources, which now are spread among seven buildings. Currently, every hour 37 doors open to the outside as students change classes, letting costly energy escape.

The cost is affordable

The community voted on a school facilities bond in 2009, which failed to pass by less than 250 votes. People tell me that the scope of that bond was too large. This time, the price tag for both propositions totals $51.2 million rather than $75.5. This time, projects have been prioritized according to the educational specifications and needs identified by a committee of educators and citizens representing the district, the high school and the community. For an average-priced home, it will cost $11 more per month in taxes to pay for both propositions.

What I know for certain is that we need to act immediately. The longer we delay, the higher the costs will be. The current slowdown in the building industry contributes to a more favorable bidding and construction climate. Additionally, bond interest rates are at historic lows, which will reduce borrowing costs.

Quality control is of prime importance

As taxpayers, you have a right to expect that the job will be done well. An experienced project manager will oversee design and building processes 24/7 to ensure that all projects are built with enduring quality and cost efficiency. Construction will take place over the next three years, with no interruption of classes. Completion is expected by September 2014.

Let me say a few words about maintenance because I know that it has been a concern to some in the past. Our promise has been kept to increase maintenance staffing and to implement a preventive maintenance plan to maximize the life of our facilities. Once our antiquated systems have been upgraded, we anticipate being able to direct even more time from repeated repair to scheduled maintenance.

We must also do something about missed opportunities for our kids to participate in character-building sports programs due to soggy, weather damaged athletic fields several months each year. Proposition 2 will cost less than a dollar per month and provides greater access to community and school athletics by upgrading to an all-weather field. 

As we approach the facilities bond election, I encourage you to examine the information contained in the next issue of “Soundings,” which should arrive in your mailbox this week. It will give you a comprehensive picture of the capital facilities bond propositions, the deficiencies and the projects that address them, and, of course, the costs involved. Additional information is available on our website at vashonsd.org. Feel free to call my office, schedule a meeting for your organization or attend our next Community Dinner at the high school at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Please take the time to become informed and mail in your ballot on or before Feb. 8.

— Michael Soltman is superintendent of Vashon’s school district.

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