This is not the best of times for many people. It also is not the best of times for the Washington School District, which has needs that must be addressed.
Tuesday, April 2, we will vote on two questions for the district. One would not require a tax increase. It is Question 1 on the ballot. It’s a $9 million no tax hike bond issue. The money would be used for wireless infrastructure districtwide; for construction of an early childhood center; HVAC upgrades at Augusta Elementary; and additional classrooms at Marthasville Elementary. These are needs we can’t afford to ignore if we want to meet standards of quality in technology and physical plants.
Question 2 if approved by voters will permit the district to take a big step forward in meeting critical needs that must be addressed. It’s a $40 million bond issue with a 25-cent increase in the building levy to construct a new middle school. Included in this proposal are minor renovations to the current middle school. It would be converted to a K-5 elementary school.
The construction of a new middle school on ground the district owns just east of the city limits would serve sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. This plan would open up classroom space at all eight of the elementary schools.
This is an alternative plan to building a new high school. Enrollment has leveled off at the high school level. The cost to build a new high school would cost millions more than to build a middle school. This is a move to control the debt service, and it’s a workable plan. We know there are people who would rather see a new high school built. They’ve got a strong argument, but it’s a matter of cost, and what realistically the taxpayers are willing to shoulder.
The total Washington school levy now is $3.83 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which is among the lowest of districts in this area. Even at $4.08, with the increase, it would be among the lower rates in this area. For instance, the Meramec Valley (Pacific) District’s 2012 rate was $4.30 and New Haven was at $4.48. Union and St. Clair are lower than $4.00. Sullivan’s rate is $4.01.
The truth is a great deal of pride is at stake in this election. Don’t we want a public education system that embraces high standards, a quality education for our children, with the physical tools teachers need to perform at their best? Public education is an attribute that tells people something about the community. Public education facilities must meet high standards to bring home the message that this is a school district with people who care and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for quality.
Education has never been more important than it is today. We live in a fast changing world. Technological advances come at a rapid pace. We must prepare students to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Communities that place a high value on public education in a quality setting is where industries go and provide jobs.
The Washington community, which includes where we have elementary schools, historically has earned a reputation as a leader in many fields. We must not lessen our commitment to one of our most valued attributes — public education.