Opinion: Yes on 5A: Investing in our schools is investing in our children and our communities

Image by MD Duran via Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/1VqHRwxcCCw

Monday, Oct. 17, 2022

Learn more. Read 5A: Boulder Valley School District RE-2 bonds (non-opinion news article)

Want a second opinion? Boulder Beat tried to solicit For and Against op-eds for each local ballot measure, but we couldn’t find someone to argue against 5A. If you’ve got an opinion on this, email boulder.beat.editorial@gmail.com

By Allison Billings and Catherine Wessling
Impact on Education

Impact on Education is a foundation supporting the Boulder Valley School District.

Public schools are a pillar of local cities and towns, providing an essential thread in the social fabric of our community. It’s difficult to imagine our neighborhoods without their local schools — critical infrastructure that enables learning, social connections and student growth and achievement to take place.

Where students learn matters. 

In Colorado, without adequate state funding, most school districts have limited resources to provide and maintain the school buildings where students and teachers do their essential work every day. This fall, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) is asking our community to invest in improving schools across the district. The only way for BVSD to address the critical needs included in ballot measure 5A is by asking our taxpayers — our community — for help.

The $350 million property tax increase asks property owners to invest approximately $118 per year, or $9.83 a month, for each $600,000 of home value. 

While the ballot is crowded with tax measures this year, it’s important to support ballot measure 5A because BVSD is already lagging other school districts. We’re behind in equipping students with the skills needed to be prepared for the jobs that await them through robust career and college readiness offerings, our buildings require immediate maintenance to extend their useful life, and new home construction at the northeastern edge of our district will lead to overcrowded and inequitable classrooms.

BVSD’s Facilities Critical Needs Plan outlines a list of  BVSD’s most urgent capital needs.

The Boulder Chamber identified workforce development as a priority need for local employers. Expanding career and college readiness opportunities for our students will give them the credentials they need for success and will bolster our local workforce. Our secondary schools lack learning spaces, experiences and programming to adequately prepare students for  future careers in vocational trades. BVSD must catch up to peer districts like Cherry Creek and St. Vrain Valley, whose Innovation Center provides paid work experiences, coursework and industry certifications.

In a rapidly changing world, our students are missing out on these important experiences that go beyond the traditional classroom environment. Renovating our secondary schools alongside the District’s new GradPlus program will allow BVSD to continue providing the high-quality education our students deserve. Students will be able to work with educators and local companies to leverage their talents and join the skilled labor workforce immediately after high school, and they’ll also have a competitive advantage when applying for higher education in bioscience, aerospace, and other STEM fields. Allowing students to build their own path to success is important, and GradPlus enables a skills-based curriculum where students don’t have to choose between learning a skilled trade or further academic pursuits.

As home or car owners know, things wear out. Waiting to fix something often means paying more for it later. The same is true for our school facilities, where nearly 60% of BVSD buildings are over 40 years old. 

Measure 5A represents the district’s highest priorities needing to be addressed in the next four years in order to optimize taxpayer investments. The cost of the Capital Improvement Plan Review Committee’s identified critical building needs will continue to increase if the measure does not pass. 54% of the tax measure would go directly to major maintenance and facility improvements for our schools. 

Additionally, only a few other Colorado school districts are putting bond measures on the 2022 ballot, which means more commercial contractors are available now to bid on our capital projects, leading to lower overall costs and more efficient spending for taxpayers.

There is no other way to address the critical capital needs of the school district, as voters saw in 2014 when they approved a $576 million tax measure. The 2014 bond’s Building for Student Success program allowed BVSD to rebuild three schools, construct a new school in Erie and make critical infrastructure repairs and energy efficiency upgrades across the district. BVSD managed the funds in a strategic and fiscally responsible way, completing more projects than originally anticipated and maintaining programmatic excellence with their AA+ Bond Rating and top 5 academic rankings statewide. 

The new school in Erie, Meadowlark PK-8, is already at 100% capacity in grades PK-5, and a new residential neighborhood that’s already under construction in the area requires a plan to address enrollment growth before it’s a crisis. Building a second elementary school in Erie has been part of BVSD’s facility planning and will accommodate new students and relieve overcrowding in other BVSD and St Vrain Valley School District  schools, which leads to inequitable classrooms and learning experiences.

While growth in some areas of our district continues, enrollment across the district is declining slowly overall. To ensure sound long-term facility decisions consistent with the needs of the district, BVSD convened the Long Range Advisory Committee (LRAC) to review enrollment trends and facility utilization. 

Schools across the country are seeing roller coaster enrollment trends and the LRAC team — community members, principals, teachers, BVSD committee members and others — are actively working to assess current and future facility demands. BVSD is taking declining enrollment seriously, but it doesn’t change the critical importance of addressing the capital needs in measure 5A now. 

Waiting to address these needs will allow conditions to deteriorate while costs escalate. Should voters approve 5A, projects would be timed to focus initially on the secondary schools, where enrollment decline is less of a concern.

Public education provides critical economic and community value. In order to positively impact our economy and community we must educate our youth, facilitate avenues for careers, and provide safe facilities for learning.

Allison Billings and Catherine Wessling are, respectively, the executive director and communications director of Impact on Education.

This opinion piece does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Beat, its writers or editors.

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