Letter to the Editor

In opposition to R-1 tax issue

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dear Editor,

On April 8, the patrons of the Northeast Vernon County School District have the opportunity to alter the course of education in our area. The question has been placed on the ballot to determine if we should fund (or at least begin to) the district so that they may enter into a lease purchase agreement and have someone build the district a new $4.5 million school.

There is no question that the facilities at Walker and at Schell City are both in disrepair. There is also no question that the school board has put forth a stellar effort to make the best of a bad situation and have the best interest of the students at heart. The questions that have not been answered are the ones that concern me and many patrons of the district.

No one has produced a certified cost estimate on the construction of the building. We have been told that the $4.5 million price tag is little more than an educated guess from an unnamed person in St. Louis. Upon reviewing several actual cost profiles of similar sized and equipped schools recently built in our region, I propose that this school in all likelihood will cost more in the range of 5.5 to $7 million.

We have not been provided with a definitive finance plan. After looking into this scenario and using information provided by institutions that deal in public finance, I have learned that this type of arrangement will likely cost from 4 percent to 5 percent for a 20 year term and that these institutions look long and hard at such things as financial stability, workability, and geographic locations of the buildings that they fund. By further examining this information we learn that with a 15 million dollar assessed valuation for the district, this proposed levy increase will fall nearly $35,000 dollars short in the first year, of meeting the obligation outlined in the above scenario.

We have been told that this proposal will focus attention on quality education and not renovation. Shouldn't the number one priority always be quality education?

They say this will serve their growing student population. If the district is growing why do so many students already option to go to surrounding schools?

Maintaining community identity seems important and it is. Why can't we become more active in a larger community that we are already a part of?

We are also told that the district will remain in control of the education of our students. History and state education data tells us that we may be better off with some help.

Most importantly we are told that a price of the can of pop a day will fund this proposal and that 80 percent of properties fall into this category. If they would have looked farther they would learn that one person or family can own several properties and that with new increases in assessment on the horizon the burden will only increase. At that point a can of pop becomes a case of pop. Even if this 80 percent figure were not misleading, why should only 20 percent of the patrons pay for the education of 100 percent of the students?

We have also learned that a new school building, no matter how big or how expensive, will increase the quality of education and do nothing to improve the marginal accreditation that Northeast Vernon is now facing. The district is currently proficient in no more than seven of the 14 areas considered by the state education authorities when determining accreditation status. We have been shown no budget proposals to remedy this potentially fatal flaw. Every school that touches their borders is accredited in no less than twelve of those same fourteen areas and they do will be doing that on a much smaller levy. These districts have indicated that they are more than willing to take the Northeast Vernon County students without needing to build new facilities or raise levies.

Those same districts have better facilities, more and better qualified staff, a larger curriculum, more extra curricular activities and some are A+ schools that offer several classes that actually qualify to be used as college credit.

It is our duty to provide the best education possible for all the students of the district. It is also our duty as patrons to defend and protect the well being of the families that those students are a part of. If we impose undue financial stress on families to provide education, we have made little progress. Especially in light of the fact that we can give them better educational opportunities for less money. Yes, the education of our children is worth the cost of a can of pop a day. However I would rather give them a better education, more post secondary education opportunities, better facilities, more extracurricular activities, and keep my pop for my family.

C. Kent Abele

Committee for Quality Education