In a perfect world, enrollment would be increasing, old buildings would have been better maintained or ideal green space would be located in the northeast and southeast of St. Joseph for new high schools.
While you’re at it, all the kids would love math homework and the school lunches would always get eaten.
We don’t live in a perfect world. We live in St. Joseph in 2021. Those who run the St. Joseph School District have to play the hand they’re dealt, based on the reality of today as dictated by the accumulated decisions of past years.
Maybe a perfect solution exists in a place like Liberty or Lee’s Summit, where the adjusted tax rate easily eclipses St. Joseph and would continue to do so even if voters approve the $107 million bond issue this coming Tuesday.
Instead, the St. Joseph School District presents voters with a practical and workable plan for much-needed improvement and consolidation at the high school level. It deserves passage on Tuesday.
The main impetus for the bond issue is demographic growth or lack of it. Enrollment steadily declines and threatens to drop below the psychological barrier of 10,000 in the near future.
The district makes the case that the high schools are underutilized by about 975 seats and that shifting boundaries among three high school buildings still would result in underutilization. It’s just a shell game.
If the debate has shifted from how to get to two public high schools, rather than whether to do so, then that’s a small victory.
Critics of this proposal question why Lafayette and Benton are suitable for middle schools if they’re inadequate for high schools. This argument has appeal but misses a bigger point. If the Lafayette and Benton buildings are still viable, as critics point out, then a transformation into middle schools represents one of the best elements of the district’s vision.
That’s because middle school is a critical time for academic and social development when too many students fall behind. The current experience at middle school has proven frustrating and disorganized for some students and parents. An improved and more unified approach will benefit students during these critical learning years.
It will always be easy to oppose a bond issue like this, for reasons of tradition, cost or trust.
The justification for taking the plunge is harder to grasp. It requires an ability to not only see where we are and where we’ve been, but where we need to be in the future.
At some point, St. Joseph will have to see a future that’s more than a repeat of the past.
Why not now?