Our Opinion: Explore next steps in public education

News Tribune editorial

Where do we go from here?

Jefferson City School District patrons voted their unwillingness to add 55 cents to their property tax levies to build and operate a new public high school, as well as other less costly initiatives.

Does rejection begin a process of elimination that will be costly — in both time and election expense — to continue?

Or will patrons find common ground on which to proceed?

An option is to do nothing, but that does not solve the overcrowding problem.

Former district Superintendent Larry Folkins wrote in a Wednesday letter that research establishes an optimum high school student population at about 1,000 students.

Jefferson City High School now has 1,891 students, according to David Luther, director of school-community relations, and the population of Simonsen 9th Grade Center is 643.

Those numbers indicate the desirability of two public high schools — an alternative championed by a group that successfully opposed the recent ballot issues.

The two-school approach immediately raises two questions:

• Will district patrons support the cost of construction and operation?

• Would the two schools be the existing school and a new school, or two newly constructed schools?

The old-and-new option presumably would be less expensive.

Two new schools would provide equity of design and construction.

Is equity of facilities worth the expense? Is it even necessary?

The middle schools mirror each other in design and were built at the same time. District elementary schools reflect a range of age and styles.

We believe building equity is helpful, but not required. Although classroom configuration and technological accommodations are useful, we believe the interaction between teacher and students is the most important component of learning.

Discussion of the two-school approach also must involve the academy concept, which separates students among seven career interests. The district has signaled it is committed to academies, a concept opposed by some patrons.

We believe the transition to academies sounds more drastic than it is, in reality. At an academy we visited, the learning path was an emphasis, not an exclusion of basic skills.

If patrons agree to pursue academies at two school, does each host all seven academies or are the academies divided among the schools?

These are only a few of the questions and concerns the district must address as it moves forward.

The process will involve much discussion and debate about complex issues.

We encourage patrons to participate in the dialog and be open-minded in evaluating options and ideas.

The education and future of our young people will depend on it.

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