Editorial | Saturday/Sunday, March 31-April 1, 2012
Beloit Daily News. www.beloitdailynews.com
Opportunity, timing key considerations for school referendum.
ANY ONE WHO HAS followed the extensive coverage in the newspaper, attended public information gatherings around the community, read pulic Forum letters to the editor, or checked out cltlz~n blogs on the Beloit Daily News website, knows this: The $70 million bond referendum proposed by the School District of Beloit is the hottest issue facing voters on next Tuesday’s ballot.
And that’s a good thing.
Beloit. today, has quite a laundry list of challenges, and the people of this fair city have established an emiable record of stepping up to find and forge solutions.
But Beloit, tomorrow, belongs to its young people – including those yet to come, in future generations. It is they who will inherit the good and the bad, and determine whether this community meets the challenges of the future. To a considerable degree, the quality of education they receive will decide success or failure. Education is an investment – not in ourselves, but in our progeny.
THE REFERENDUM, as proposed, is not perfect. Nor could it be. When there are tens of thousands of stakeholders, each with a unique view of what should or should not be included, it is not possible to construct a plan to which no one would object.
There are details that were virtually guaranteed to be controversial from the start. For example, rational people can reasonably disagree on whether taxpayers should shell out millions of dollars to bUild a new swimming pool.
Likewise, closing some schools while building a completely new facility on the East Side is a point of – contention sure to spark differences of opinion.
That’s what elections are for, to put differences to the test so matters can be settled in the democratic way.
How about the reconfiguration of grades? Some predict catastrophic consequences if grades 4-8 mix in the same building, albeit in separate wings. Truth is, no one can say with certainty if such a change will ~ make any difference, good or bad. Our view is that what really matters is the activity within four walls, not the construction techniques or the arrangement of classrooms. The quality of administration – and, I even more so, teaching – combine with the indis- t pensable role of parents to determine the measur- J able outcomes in any school.
Beloit’s trends have been moving in the right I I direction and the future looks promising. Still, that I r long-term story is yet to be written, by authors I I inside the school buildings over the next 20 years and beyond.
SO, IF WELL-MEANING PEOPLE reasonably I can see the same referendum issues from thor- ~ oughly different viewpoints, how are voters to weigh I their decision?
Let’s talk about practical considerations.
The timing for constructing … well. anything … could not be more propitious. Interest rates for borrowers stand at historic lows. Construction costs are mitigated by weak demand for builders’ services, so project bidders may be expected to approach the process with very sharp pencils. They want the work – they need the work – and presumably will bid aggressively to win contracts.
As it stands today. the state of Wisconsin will pick up thp lion’s sh~re of costs by reimbursing the district about 64 cents on the dollar. As the past year has mdicated, nothing is certain in Madison anymore except. perhaps. this: There’s not a chance Beloit could net higher reimbursements by waiting. In tact, that formula could change for the worse if state finances tighten further.
When it comes to econo’mic development – rephrase that, to. growth and prosperity – schools matter. Yes, the dIrect correlation can be overstated. No one can pro~ise that these improvements will produce P?pUlatIOn growth, job creation, company relocatIOns or anything else. But the inverse part of th.at equation is predictable. Deteriorating schools wlth a lousy reputation can pose a formidable im~ediment to growth. Companies and people have cholces and they will exercise them. A forwardleaning community must compete for the attention and approval of moms and dads considering where to live and educate their kids.
THERE’S AN OLD SAYING: Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
We think that applies to this bond referendum. The details are debatable but this is not: Facilities improvements will never come cheaper, because of the combination of retiring old debt, the state reimbursement formula, low interest rates and hungry construction crews eager for work.
The $70 million pricetag generates sticker shock. It’s huge. But so is the opportunity to upgrade facilities and call positive attention to what Beloit can offer families with school-age children.
From Riverside Park to the City Center to the Iron Works campus and more, Beloit has set a high standard for bootstrapping community reinvention.
This is a logical next step, and the Beloit Daily News recommends a “yes” vote on Tuesday.