Prepare for future in school budget

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Few issues are as much of a landmine for elected officials as the funding of public education.

On the one hand, it’s the one priority most rational people agree deserves full funding, while on the other, it’s difficult to develop a consensus on what fully funded truly looks like. Fully funding public schools certainly means pay for teachers that is competitive enough to not only attract but retain talented educators.

It means providing top quality educational resources and instructional aids for students that they may receive the highest quality education possible. Until not all that long ago, it even meant providing for well-rounded extracurricular programs that extended beyond athletics and into the arts.

Yet the debate over fully funding a public education system has always ground to a halt when it enters the realm of what constitutes a quality educational environment, or more specifically, the importance of the quality of the school buildings themselves.

New schools today, as compared to where many of us were forced to spend 180 days out of each and every year, are considered palaces of education compared to earlier schoolhouses, with amenities and comforts available to children that were unimaginable even a few short years ago. Yet while children certainly could learn, as they did for hundreds of years, in environments that do not include smartboards and wireless Internet access, would we not even consider going without these new technologies today?

Why is it then that we are so cavalier in our attitude toward cramming children into buildings designed to accommodate fewer than half of their total current enrollment, as is the case at Capron Elementary School? Granted, Capron Elementary has made necessary adjustments over the years to provide additional instructional space by adding trailers and making do with what it has.

And based on test scores achieved by students and the general environment created by the school’s leadership over the years, the school seems to be maximizing its resources and getting positive results.

At some point, however, the school will exceed its capacity to a point that it creates an environment that is no longer simply unreasonable, but unacceptable. And that time will likely come sooner rather than later.

We have recently elected a Board of Supervisors whose sole platform seems to be that if we can’t find a way to do more with less, we must simply accept that fact that we must do less with less. As such, a plan to finance $10 million in additional debt to build a new elementary school will probably not be at the top of this board’s priority list any time soon. But a pledge to begin a serious discussion about planning for this eventual need should be at the top of their list today.