Media: KSPR 3-22-2017 – “Both Sides of Proposed $189 Million Springfield School Bond Issue

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KSPR) – The Springfield School Board asks voters to approve a $189 million bond issue to make what district leaders call critical school improvements identified by the school district’s Facility Master Plan.

The board voted unanimously on Jan. 10 to place the request on the ballot to fund projects that would impact 19 schools and expand space for early childhood education programs.

Virgil Hill with the Save R-12 Schools Committee described why he and the group are against the bond.

“It fails to focus on the most important task of education in our community, which is to substantially increase the academic achievement and therefore the long term social outcomes for students in the community,” said Hill.

The Save R-12 Committee argues there is no evidence that new buildings result in improved student performances, that closing and combining schools would hurt neighborhoods, and that the district’s proposal values buildings over teachers and doesn’t give students enough credit for their abilities to learn. Hill went on to say that children in high poverty areas of Springfield are already not being served adequately and that these changes would do nothing to solve that problem.

He also warned voters to not be fooled by “facades.” Hill used that word to describe Westport Elementary School several times, a school that he says received similar funds back in 2013.

“New facilities simply do not increase academic achievement in a unit of themselves, “said Hill. “It’s necessary to have a serious academic plan that precedes the facilities and we don’t have that.”

The group calls for the district to ignore a consultant’s recommendations and repair, rehab, renovate rather than demolish existing buildings.

“There are buildings that need to be preserved, rehabbed, renovated if necessary, and that could be done,” Hill said.

He says he sees it happen all the time throughout the Springfield community.

“Surely, we can focus the money back on the classroom.”

The Quality Schools for Kids Committee sees the bond differently. Jim Anderson, a co-chairman of the committee, says this is not an either-or proposition.

“We obviously need very relevant curriculum and we need good quality schools for kids,” said Anderson. “Certainly, updated school buildings do not guarantee academic achievement by themselves, but there is a guarantee that quality schools, I think, create the environment for students to learn best.”

Anderson went on to point out the purpose of the bond was never to increase test scores or improve academic success; rather, it’s to improve Springfield School District facilities and create a quality learning environment.

According to Anderson, “78 percent of the schools are more than 50 years old and some 22 of the schools have been evaluated as unsatisfactory or poor.” He called it “unfair” for the kids who live in those neighborhoods. He also noted that older schools can present technology barriers.

“Wiring issues, issues related to barriers for children with disabilities, a lot of the latest teaching methods in terms of collaboration or combined classroom, team-teaching, that kind of thing – it doesn’t work in rooms meant for students in the past,” said Anderson.

As far as being accused of having a lack of faith in the current staff and students, Anderson explained it’s a competitive situation.

“Teachers have choices on where they go and fortunately we have quality and outstanding teachers at Springfield Public Schools. My conviction is updated work spaces help retain those teachers and help hire other teachers. They want to be in a quality work environment and no one can blame them for that,” said Anderson.

So, what will it cost the homeowner?

It will cost the average homeowner $4 per month, equaling out to about $48 each year for the next 12 years. After those 12 years, the average Springfield homeowner would have paid anywhere from $550 to $600. (If passed, the first year of the bond would be slightly lower).

“We believe that providing great learning environments for our students and for our staff will truly attract and retain people in this community,” said Carol Embree, chief finance and operations officer for the Springfield School District. “We also believe that this is an investment in our community that will provide for students and staff for decades to come.”

The election is on April 4, 2017. More information is on the school district’s website.