Opinion

A great community depends on great schools

By BETTIE EDWARDS, MAY GERSTLE and FOSS MILLER

For The Beachcomber

There’s no shortage of volunteer opportunities on this Island. We should know. All three of us are long-time Island residents and two of us are business owners. Between us, we get a lot of calls for help. So why do we put the school-bond campaign at the top or our list?

There’s nothing that defines the soul of Vashon more than the schools. They are the glue that binds us. Their obvious value is that they educate our children and prepare them for taking on the challenges of the 21st century. But beyond that, our schools breathe economic and cultural vibrancy into our community. They attract home buyers. They provide jobs. They offer facilities for performances, meetings and athletic events. Furthermore, the teachers who live on the Island enrich our lives in so many ways beyond the classroom.

The bottom line is that our schools really do make a difference to the health of our community. We need to pass this bond.

This is a capital bond. It pays for bricks and mortar, not teachers’ salaries and books. Some may argue that buildings are not what make our schools great; it’s the teachers and the impact they have on students. We heartily agree. However, without decent facilities — and some of these school facilities are well past their prime — how can teachers do their jobs well?

All three schools suffer from antiquated heating systems, making them too cold in the winter and sometimes too hot in the warmer months. The high school, where the majority of the bond money will go, struggles with over-crowded classrooms that lack natural light and don’t meet current safety codes. The last minor upgrades to the high school happened close to 20 years ago.

Isn’t it about time we right-sized those classrooms, provided some proper daylight, improved energy efficiency and made those buildings more resistant to natural disasters and fires?

The bond is divided into two measures. Proposition 1 will upgrade heating systems at all the schools, renovate and reuse the main high school building and build a new high school classroom building.

Proposition 2 — which can’t pass without Proposition 1 passing — will give us a new all-weather track and field at the high school, saving thousands of gallons of water a year, reducing time spent on maintenance and allowing our student athletes to host track meets on their home turf (something they haven’t been able to do for several years). Also, our current field requires three to four months of rest each year in order to keep it in working order. A synthetic field needs no rest, which means we can use it all year long.

What about maintenance, you ask? Is the district doing enough to maintain what already exists? The answer is yes. The school district heard voter concerns about maintenance during the last school bond, and it responded with a maintenance and technology levy that passed overwhelmingly. The levy allows the district to fully fund maintenance. However, with upgraded systems, new construction and a more consolidated high school campus, the district’s maintenance staff will be able to focus on preventing problems, as opposed to reacting to them.

How much will this bond cost taxpayers? For a detailed look at school bond taxes or to read the full facilities conditions assessment, please go to the Vashon School District website at www.vashonsd.org

We spoke and our school board listened. This is the right bond at the right time. It is reasonably priced, and it will give our students — and our community — school facilities that reflect the vibrancy and intelligence of our unique and wonderful Island community.

Please join us in voting yes no later than Feb. 8.

— Bettie Edwards owns The Little House; May Gerstle is an Islander active in civic affairs; and Foss Miller is the CEO of Pacific Research Laboratories, also known as Sawbones.

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