By Bob Schroeter
ON TUESDAY, VOTERS within the Port Angeles School District face an important vote at a critical crossroads.
With Proposition 1 before those voters, the school district seeks approval of a capital levy to expand and renovate Stevens Middle School.
The amount being sought is not “chump change” — its price tag amounts to $46.7 million over six years. Notably though, it’s roughly one half of the amount sought unsuccessfully two years ago for rebuilding the Port Angeles High School.
The product or “what we get” for that price tag is neither meaningless nor extravagant.
It is the opportunity, at standard market pricing, to begin reinvesting in long overdue school infrastructure needs that hamper educational effectiveness.
While many remember longingly the 1950s, most can reasonably see the inequity in today’s students using 60-plus-year-old school equipment.
Although buildings can last longer than equipment, often school facilities built in that time period even if well maintained are simply not of the quality necessary to meet today’s needs.
That is self-evident in the situation at Stevens Middle School, and the need to address school overcrowding makes that outlook even more ominous.
While we at the Clallam County Economic Development Corp. (Clallam EDC) have appreciated the reasoned arguments made on both sides of this issue, there are certain basics that we find telling and clear from our perspective:
• Businesses look at local infrastructure investment and school facilities and quality when deciding on relocating.
• Medical professionals, in high demand in many areas including our own, look at school facilities and quality before deciding on accepting positions in the new location.
• Students currently in schools show tangible benefits educationally from being in schools that have upgraded facilities as well as being able to see the community’s backing for their education.
The challenge is substantial: aging facilities and overcrowded buildings.
The funds sought from local taxpayers are considerable.
Yet our Port Angeles community faces even harder choices should we “kick the can” yet again down the road until at some point we are either compelled to pay even more to make up for years of neglect, or end up with a school system made of a patchwork of modular structures and stop-gap measures.
For those who are on fixed incomes but who want to support this long delayed effort at school modernization, a series of county property tax relief options from exemptions to deferrals are in place to reduce negative impacts.
For all of those who are weighing their decision, it comes down to paying for the educational system we freely choose to have for our children and our neighbors.
For our area which is seeking to grow economically, to attract businesses, and to keep medical and other professionals serving our amazing community, support for this capital levy makes very good sense.
It focuses on the needs rather than wants, it maximizes state funds coming to the district in the future rather than relying solely on local money, and it is a minimalist approach to what is needed for Port Angeles students today and tomorrow.
The Clallam EDC remains a strong supporter of building and enhancing the region’s infrastructure and community assets, and working to attract and support economic opportunity here in Clallam County.
We support a “Yes” vote on Proposition 1 as being consistent with our goals and our mission at building a stronger local economy, and stronger communities throughout Clallam County.
Bob Schroeter is the CEO of Clallam Economic Development Corp.
Terry Ward, publisher of the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, serves on the Economic Development Corp. board of directors.