February 27, 2007

Editorial:Vote with your feet

The wheels have been set in motion and -- more likely than not -- voters will be considering a school construction bond measure on a ballot in the not too distant future.

Also gearing up are the arguments of the contrarians, those who seem to oppose any school funding matters on principle, however unsubstantiated.
What tends to happen when a community considers a school bond are two divergent debates.

The first, and most logical, is that of the bond measure itself. Does the school district really need what it is asking for and is the proposal the best use of public funding?
Well, at this point no one knows exactly what is going to be asked for in any future bond measures but it is a safe bet to assume it will be new or expanded schools.

Why would they ask for this?

Let’s look at Redmond’s growth wave. In 1995, when things were really beginning to heat up in Redmond’s population, the town had 9,650 people and the school district 4,986 students. Of course the city population is counted only within city limits and the students come from a much wider area but close to 50 percent of the population in schools is a pretty impressive number. In 1995 Redmond School District had 10 schools, two of them newly built to accommodate the first wave of incoming students arriving with their families.

Since 1995 the city has doubled in population. The student population increase has been slower, but respectable, at about 35 percent.

The two new schools opened last year had seats for 1,400 students but in those years between 1995 and 2006 we gained a net of 1,782 kids. Where do those extra 400 kids go? Wherever we can find room.

Some schools are straining at the seams and some are quite comfortable with their current populations. Efforts to redistribute the students for equity’s sake have been difficult, with parents often protesting changes in school boundaries.

Meanwhile the city continues to grow, housing bubble threats aside. And the district can expect to welcome around 100 new students on a slow year.

Redmond’s eventual need for new school buildings, in reality, is a ‘duh’. There is no common-sense argument that can dispute the obvious need.

Oddly enough, the arguments against voting and paying for new schools tend to have absolutely nothing to do with new schools.

Instead, voters are told to Send a Message. Past mistakes and slights, real or perceived, are dredged up. The logic seems to be that if voters are unhappy with any decisions made by the school board – reduced school days to meet budgets, changes in personnel or policy, or a previous school building measure that did not measure up in their view – they should let the board know by declining to approve new schools for a growing student body.

The logic of this is befuddling. It is akin to refusing to allow your spouse to buy a new car when the old one has died because you think they failed to keep a previous, and unrelated, promise to you.

You don’t like the choices made the school board and district officials?

Vote with your feet, not your ballot. Head down to the district office for the next board meeting and be sure they know how you feel about former, and upcoming, issues. Most school board meetings have no public attendees aside from those there because they are on the agenda.

Essentially, that means there are up to 24 opportunities for taxpayers to become well-informed about the district doings and unlimited (don’t forget phone calls and letters) chances to voice your opinion.

Don’t confuse one important subject with another.

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