Our Opinion: Help build a renewal for public education

Although the campaign has been a disappointment, a bond issue and levy increase for the Jefferson City School District deserves approval.

The issues will appear as Question 1 and 2 on Tuesday’s ballot.

Campaign organizers intentionally have elected to fly below the radar. That’s unfortunate. On an issue of this magnitude — the future of public education in our community — comprehensive discussion and debate is necessary.

The stealth campaign marks a contrast from the more open, inclusive process started months ago by district educators and patrons.

Public meetings were held to generate input, patron committees traveled to other communities and wide-ranging discussion led to the proposals to be decided in Tuesday’s election.

The $70 million bond issue will finance a replacement high school east of Missouri 179 and a replacement for East Elementary School. A levy increase would generate $2.5 million for ongoing district operations.

The combined increase on property taxes would be 55 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. For a $150,000 home, the annual tax increase would be $157.

The plan to build a replacement high school has been characterized by some supporters as the best affordable proposal.

Some opponents of the ballot issues have coalesced around a concept to operate two public high schools; they believe dividing students between two facilities would provide added opportunities — both academic and extracurricular.

Because operating two high schools would be a more costly option, skeptics wonder if the two-school supporters are using the concept as cover to snipe at the single-school proposals. If the two-school proposal were on the table, they ask, would those adherents put their tax money where their mouths are?

The downside of Tuesday’s issue is a large student population would continue to be funneled into a single high school. Jefferson City now operates one of the most populous public high schools in the state.

To its credit, the district has acquired a site for the new school and has contracted for the sale of the existing high school and other buildings if the ballot issues are approved.

In addition, the new facility would be designed to utilize the academy concept, which disperses the overall population into seven learning centers.

The transition to academies, however, does not hinge on the success of the ballot issues. The district has committed to implement academies at the existing school if the ballot issues fail.

Although academies have been successful elsewhere, the argument can be made that implementing and assessing academies should precede building a new facility based on the concept.

A counter argument, however, is facilities can be, and often are, modified and adapted.

In the final analysis, the quest for an ideal must not prevent improvement.

Although the concept of two public high schools offers attractive qualities, the anticipated costs might strain patrons’ pocketbooks and impede voter approval.

A modern facility, coupled with the academy concept, offers an affordable, attainable way to enhance public education in our community.

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