To the editor:
As our community is asked to continue its investment in education with the upcoming bond election, I’ve heard conversations about the contents of the proposal and subsequent assignment of “needs” and “wants.” After talking with local school administrators and doing my own research, I would like to offer the following thoughts...
Our schools need safer entrances. The 21st century provides much in the way of technological advances and benefits to classroom learning, but it also presents unprecedented cause for concern. Beyond the threat of an active shooter, today’s family dynamics, custody issues and the need to quickly and easily monitor who is in the building, make a strong case for the importance of secure entrances.
Our schools need storm shelters. After a particularly active severe weather season across the region, storm footage is a reminder that mother nature is unpredictable, and mother nature almost always wins. Building dual purpose storm shelters will add valuable square footage to our buildings. These are spaces that will reduce stress on hectic gyms that currently house physical education, breakfast/lunch, school assemblies and more. Hopefully we never have to use these spaces for their intended purpose of a storm shelter, but we must take reasonable precautions to create safe learning environments for our kids.
Sixth-grade students belong at Great Bend Middle School. If you look at communities our size, a 6-8 middle school format is very common and provides academic and enrichment benefits. Sixth graders are ready for more sophisticated curriculum. The plan to build a sixth-grade wing, paired with the class core structure, creates a small school feel while giving students the support they need. Promoting sixth-grade also creates space at the elementary buildings to expand free pre-K district wide.
Our buildings need maintenance and renovations. We are standing in the shade of investments made in the 1960’s. This bond proposal does not add classrooms, but instead, renovates spaces to give teachers the work environment and space they need. Well maintained facilities are important to recruit and retain teachers, but also important for our students that spend so much time in these buildings.
Our community needs free Pre-K. Early childhood education is one of the most significant ways to impact the educational trajectory, and life trajectory, of students. While private preschool options are readily available in our community, a majority of kindergarten students arrive at school with no preschool. Once space is created for Pre-K, our community will see long term benefits from investments made.
Annual school budgets are stretched to support regular operating expenses including the employment of nearly 700 employees with an annual payroll of over $27 million dollars. The bond generates funds beyond the regular operating budget. The influx of investment allows the work to be accomplished within three years and creates impacts that will be felt almost immediately in our community.
I have reviewed the plans in detail and applaud the community steering committee and USD 428 leadership for presenting a plan that has been filtered through a test of needs verses wants and community feedback. While the first drafts of plans included some wants or wish list items, this current proposal addresses the current needs to ensure a strong education system in Great Bend. Now is the time to make this happen. These upgrades are needed and will only become more expensive if we ‘kick the can down the road.’ Our children, our teachers, and our town need this to happen, NOW!