Support school needs
To the Editor:
I am a parent of three children who attend school in USD 348. Since September of 1999, I have attended our school board meetings. The board makes many important decisions which affect our children directly each month. Our school district hired an architectural firm which has expertise in school facilities planning to analyze our current situation with regard to our children's future educational needs. The board realizes that Baldwin is growing and will continue to grow. Since 1990, the total number of students in the district has grown by 383. By the looks of the subdivisions being built, Baldwin will grow even faster in the next 10 years. We know from experience with our city's problems with utility capacity and infrastructure that playing catch-up is a negative situation. Let's learn from that and be proactive in our plans to be ready for the future and not reactive to a situation in which we have more students than desks.
The architect's report recommended building new buildings as well as additions to some of the existing ones so we would be ready for the growth our town will experience in the next few years. The school board heard from a few people that believe facilities we currently have in the district are sufficient for now. I do not agree. Did you know that the enrollment in Baldwin Elementary School is higher than 17 of 19 elementary schools in Lawrence? Does that seem like a small town statistic to you? It doesn't to me.
I heard an idea discussed at our last school board meeting which prompted me to write this letter. The idea was to build an addition on to the junior high that could house sixth grade classrooms with space included to add fifth grade classrooms in the future. I think that is a very bad idea for several reasons. First of all, I don't want my 10 year old going to school at the same site as my 18 year old. I think mixing high school students with fifth graders is counter-productive. Fifth grade problems are considerably more tame than 12th grade problems. Secondly, traffic is already a problem at BHS/BJHS. I think adding more students to that site would be asking for trouble. In addition, the current number of students at BHS/BJHS is already above what is recommended. I have talked to other parents and faculty about this plan and no one has said they think it is a good solution. I think if an addition is needed at the junior high it should be a cafeteria/media center/multi-purpose one. Not a place to move more students to an already overly full site.
We need to face the facts that tell us new school buildings are needed. The architect's report recommended a new elementary school or a fifth and sixth grade school. Maybe our community will decide a new K through third grade school best meets our needs. In any case, I feel it would be a terrible mistake to make a hasty decision to add on some classrooms at the junior high and think we have solved the problems for future needs for growth in our district. What I think we need to do is shop for land for new schools and figure out how to be creative with the LOB increase so we can build the new schools. Our children deserve our best laid plans not Johnny-come-too-late ones. Stop gap measures are not what is called for here. If we wait to build a new school it will only get more expensive, not less. Meanwhile our children will be shortchanged by being crowded in facilities not designed for their numbers.
I have seen my tax bill increase by 28 percent this year. I don't want to pay even more. My electricity bill is up, my water bill is higher and my gas bill is skyrocketing. I would like to achieve a good plan for a new school without a tax increase. But if it does come to that, I would rather be part of a community that is willing to say we value our children and their education and we'll pay for it, rather than one that leaves education at the bottom of our priority list. Whether you agree with me or not, please let your school board members know what you think. They will continue to make important decisions for us with your input or without. Wouldn't you rather they took your feelings and ideas into consideration?