Your Turn: Secondary school bond needed for students

The May 2, 2017, Lawrence School Bond Mail-Ballot Election addresses educational needs as well as decades of deferred maintenance that face Lawrence’s (and many of our state’s and nation’s) schools, due in part to a general underfunding of public education. Our school board and district are committed to finishing the process started with community support in 2013 to improve all of our schools and better meet the needs of students and teachers. With the final elementary school project at Pinckney wrapping up construction, we are essentially halfway there. Now it’s time to equip our secondary schools, with an emphasis on Lawrence High School, and support our educators in teaching today’s students and preparing them for the future.

High quality facilities are a necessary component of the district’s ongoing efforts to provide a student-centered support system that meets the academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs of each student. Facilities must support our personalized learning practices and technological needs. They must be safe, clean, comfortable and work with, not against, teachers to stimulate student learning. Their operations should not be a drain on limited school resources, nor should they put additional strain on facilities departments that are already doing more with less to meet the district’s needs.

With this in mind, the bond’s implementation will create flexible spaces that enhance students’ educational experiences through opportunities to collaborate, create and innovate. It will address issues of inequity across our secondary school facilities, as well as generally improve safety and security. It will also allow our facilities to (a) accommodate student enrollment growth; (b) be more energy and maintenance efficient (saving general fund dollars and reducing facility carbon footprints); and (c) be healthier and more productive learning environments.

Decades of multidisciplinary research demonstrates how the built environment affects occupant productivity, performance and health. A large body of that research conducted within educational environments shows that school facilities influence test scores, the rate of student learning, mental function, memory recall, the ability to focus on tasks, attendance, physical symptoms of stress and even disciplinary action. The positive benefits of high-quality school facilities can compound over the course of students’ PreK-12 careers. In addition, students traditionally considered “at risk” tend to be more susceptible to the negative impacts of poor indoor environmental quality and other facility shortcomings. High quality facilities are an essential component to successfully fulfilling our mission to prepare students for college, careers and adult life.

Over the past four years, the district has sensibly and responsibly managed resources (both bond and capital outlay) to address the needs of our elementary schools — resulting in a tax decrease to the community. The board and staff ensured that our bond projects were completed on time and on budget, while delivering on the facilities repairs and enhancements promised to the community. Where appropriate, we have aligned our capital outlay plan to our bond construction schedule to complete needed projects outside the scope of the bond while maximizing the purchasing power of our community’s tax dollars. With the community’s support, we will once again diligently manage taxpayers’ investments and successfully execute middle and high school facility improvements that will positively impact our students and our staff.

Additional information about the bond election, including the associated facilities master plan document and voting information, may be found on the district’s website. It’s time to finish what we started in 2013. For the sake of our students, we urge you to vote Yes.

Marcel Harmon is the president and Shannon Kimball the vice president of the Lawrence School Board. They both serve on the school district’s Facilities Committee, and in that capacity have been involved in the master planning for the secondary school bond, as well as the implementation of the previous 2013 bond focused on the elementary schools.