ELECTION VIEW: Bellingham school bond a good investment in education

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 23, 2013 

Bellingham Public Schools is putting a $160 million bond for facilities before voters in the Nov. 5 election.

Bellingham voters have a proud history of supporting students and our schools. As parents and community members, we join hundreds of others to ask for your support. Please approve this bond and invest in our children.

Last year, a Facilities Planning Task Force of community members, parents and staff thoroughly assessed district facilities. The task force focused on balancing the greatest facility needs, recommendations of professional consultants, financial realities and impact on families.

A 10-year plan was created that benefits all areas of our district. The projects in this bond election are:

Addressing maintenance needs in schools such as roof replacement, painting, heating, ventilation and energy efficiency upgrades;

Making safety improvements at schools;

Adding a central kitchen to provide healthier food for all students;

Rebuilding Sehome High School;

Getting Options High School students out of portables and into a proper building;

Rebuilding Happy Valley Elementary School;

Improving Lowell and Parkview elementary schools;

Making safety improvements and renovations at the existing student transportation and district office buildings;

Upgrading high school fields for physical education, band, sports and community recreation; and

Planning for environmental learning upgrades at the Lake Whatcom Gordon Carter Conservation Site.

If approved by voters, the plan is to engage school communities in the design and planning to complete these projects by 2019.

This bond does not include all of the facility needs for our schools, including Carl Cozier, Columbia and Sunnyland. However, a yes vote on this bond takes a step toward moving these neighborhood school projects up the priority list for the future.

As you can see, voting to approve this bond is supporting, caring and loving our neighborhood schools. Larrabee is the only school being closed because the facility does not function well as a learning space for grades K-5. The bond's outcome does not influence this decision, which came after a significant public process last year.

Washington state does not fully fund public education, including facilities. Proactive maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades are the smartest way to protect our community's investment in school facilities. Safety improvements are a necessary reality. Sehome students attend a school built in 1966 that has not had any major improvements. Its sprawling campus often requires students to travel outside between classes. Seven buildings and many outside entrances pose both heating challenges and safety concerns.

Options High School has been housed in portables for almost 20 years. Students here also travel outside between classes; the facility is crowded, bathrooms are inadequate and there is no cafeteria, no labs or exercise space. As a result, learning suffers. Safety is also a concern.

Happy Valley, Lowell and Parkview school communities will also benefit significantly from this bond.

Finally, it's never popular to invest in facilities that don't house students on a daily basis, which is why both the district office and transportation center have long-deferred maintenance and modernization needs. (Most recently, funds for retrofitting the district office were used instead to rebuild Birchwood Elementary.) However, health and safety issues have moved these needs from pressing to critical. When shared amongst our community, this investment means an additional $10.21 per month for the average Bellingham homeowner. These projects are essential. Now is the time. Here's why:

Quality facilities support quality learning.

Healthy food, year-round outdoor activity, environmental education and more opportunities for career training reflect community values.

From earthquake protection to air quality to security measures, improved health and safety for students and staff is priceless.

Operational savings from facility improvements are redistributed to student learning.

Bellingham ranks in the bottom 25 percent for bond tax rates in the state for districts of similar size and tax base. This bond would still keep us in the bottom half.

Bellingham ranks third-lowest out of seven for bond tax rates among school districts in Whatcom County.

Bond rates and building costs are at a near all-time low.

Please join us and thousands in our community in voting yes for kids. They are well worth the investment!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Parents Teri McIntyre and Mark Peterson and co-chairs of the Citizens Advisory Committee.

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