Things I ponder about the school bond

Viewpoint

Deb Hadachek Editor
www.thebellevilletelescope.com

Twenty years ago, Republic County Hospital started to plan for renovations needed to a 50-year old building

When all the wants and needs were tallied, the total came to $12 to $14 million.

Too much, said the hospital board.

So everyone got their heads together and whittled and pared and refigured and redesigned, and the final proposal came up to $6 million.

It will never pass, said one of my friends on the board at that time.

But they took the needs to the public, and the public agreed that bond issue was necessary.

Today, I still get questions about “When the hospital remodeled, why didn’t you (fill in the blank)?”

And the answer is always the same: because the hospital had six million to spend. And even though there were more things the board wished could have been added or changed or configured differently, they prioritized what could be done for six million, and that’s what they did.

Today, it almost seems unbelievable that so much was accomplished for six million.

In recent years other area hospital has scrapped their old facilities and started over (to the tune of $25 to $28 million), for renovated an existing facility (for $18 million).

I tell this story because next Tuesday night patrons of USD 109 will get their first look at proposed renovations to Republic County Jr./Sr. High and East Elementary–almost 60 year old buildings.

I cringe when I see the $12 million to $16 million price tags. Like many people I think “it will never pass.”

Then I remember that 20 years ago, voters passed a $6 million bond issue for the hospital, a key institution in our community that serves 10 to 25 inpatients a day, and dozens more outpatients.

And then I think about two buildings that serve 500 students a day for nine months out of the year.

In 2017 dollars compared to 2000 dollars, maybe that size of investment in a key institution in our community is not out of line.

The cheapest time to do new construction is always right now

Some things in the bond issue are no-brainers: a new roof, HVAC and electrical at the high school, classroom additions, safety rooms.

What voters need to weigh is whether the board has done its job to whittle and pare and redesign the project to bare bones, and decide what our children can “make do” with for another 20 years.

My husband and I own land. We’re not necessarily large landowners or small.

The property taxes any of us pay are proportionate to the average income the land we own can generate in a year.

So the tax burden to a small landowner is no less than that to a large landowner. It’s a burden regardless of your size.

The same can be said for homeowners, many on fixed incomes, with no way to increase those incomes.

We no longer have children in school, and likely will not have grandchildren who attend Republic County schools.

Yet, I think a strong school  system is an asset to retain and draw new business and residents to the county. A growing base of industries, small businesses and home owners could help ease the tax burden on ag land in the future.

It is not the buildings, but the staff and students that make a school district great.

That said, well-maintained, well-equipped facilities show outsiders that the citizens of a county put a high value on education.

Superintendent Mike Couch repeated several times last week a sentiment that needs to be taken to heart.

“I don’t want this to be a divisive vote,” he said.

I admire the seven members of the USD 109 school board who present their opinions and listen respectfully to the opinions of other board members with whom they don’t agree. They don’t back down in what they believe, but they are not insulting to those who believe differently

Every so often, someone cracks a joke and everyone laughs, and they share a cookie, and go back to work.

I hope patrons of the school district follow that example of leadership.

This bond will evoke strong emotions and opinions, as it should.

But ultimately, we are all friends and neighbors who want the best for our communities. And neighbors who don’t speak to each other–or speak badly about each other and school staff and administration–is not what is best for our communities.

So go to the meeting–and go to more than one meeting. Listen. Offer suggestions. Make compromises. And then write letters to the newspaper that lay out how you wrestle with this issue from your own experience.

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“Who needs to know about the bond issue?”.