By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Sept. 3, 2015 — If my count is correct, I’ve lived in seven different public school districts in my adult life. And as best as I can recall, I’ve always voted “yes” on school bond issues, and my estimate is that I’ve supported a half-dozen of them — from Shenandoah to West Des Moines, Des Moines, Johnston, Storm Lake, Jefferson-Scranton and now Greene County Community School District.
Here on Tuesday, Sept. 8, we vote on a $20 million proposal that would retire some buildings that are nearly 100 years old, do a major addition at the high school building so that grades 5 thru 8 can be accommodated there, build a new varsity gym worthy of hosting tournaments, build a new cafeteria, build new administration offices, use a brand new geo-thermal heating and cooling system, and make other improvements.
After studying it, and after reading all the pro & con in the local media, I’ve concluded that these proposed projects will give us the school facilities we’ll likely need in Greene County for at least the next 50 years.
So I’m voting in favor, as always.
Why am I such an easy “yes” on these school issues?
First, I’ve always believed that as taxpayers, we really get the best bang for our tax bucks with the ones we spend for educational curriculum, facilities and extracurricular programs for our kids, and educators’ salaries. Public education is the foundation of our American society. Supporting it is just as important as supporting our military, our healthcare system, our police & fire protection, and our food production system — including federal support payments for farmers in those occasional periods when the markets collapse. We all have to step up from time to time and support others.
Second, spending tax money to improve our public schools is a good way that we people of very average means can directly support economic development in our communities. As a starter, the proposed construction and possible demolition of buildings will create jobs right here. And as we improve our schools, we have a better chance of attracting young families to live and work here — and with all the growth happening in our local businesses and industries, we need more workers at all occupational levels. Also, the teachers, staff and administrators are all living right around us, and they’re spending most of the money we’re paying them right here. And, as for that proposed new gym? If we can host tournaments and other large programs here, the people coming from other schools and communities will be spending right here in our towns. In those ways, this “school issue” becomes about much more than just the school.
Let me say more on this matter of economic development. Think about all the construction and economic expansion we’ve seen in Greene County in the past five or so years. My mental survey of it here is that there’s been more than $100 million invested here. Let’s see, there’s been the $40 million Wild Rose Casino & Resort; the $5 million Cobblestone Hotel & Suites; the $5 million Hy-Vee Food Store; the $22.5 million expansion of Greene County Medical Center with USDA Rural Development loans and a $4 million public campaign; more than $1 million for the new McFarland Clinic; multi-million dollar expansions at Scranton Manufacturing and at Bauer Built Manufacturing in Paton, and let’s not forget the $13 million viaduct on Iowa Highway 4 in Jefferson built with mostly federal and state funds.
All of that investment here of private, corporate, state and federal money has made Greene County and Jefferson the talk of Iowa and beyond. And it is giving us, for the first time in 115 years, a very real chance to grow our county significantly, not only economically but even more rare, in population. Right now we are the envy of community and county leaders in rural areas across the state.
Having such momentum here is priceless.
If we have a “yes” vote Tuesday, it means we taxpayers are willing to step up and make a modest and yet very important investment of our own in this county, just like so many outside business and government entities have recently done.
If we have a “no” vote Tuesday, the rest of Iowa will take note, and probably begin to question whether Greene County and Jefferson will indeed be able to follow-through on what has started-up here.
There are two more reasons I’m voting “yes” this time.
I‘ve been impressed with the way our schools administrators and school boards at the former Jefferson-Scranton and East Greene Community Schools have handled the successful merger to become Greene County Community Schools. They’ve been calm, cool heads, looking out for what’s best for the kids. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a single fist fight and only a few catcalls, and many of us can remember that near riots were the norm in many school consolidations of the past. I view my “yes” vote as a continuing endorsement of what they’ve done.
Also, I read in the explanation of this school bond issue that the changes of the facilities have been recommended by a local “Facility Study Committee” that worked over the past two years with the consultants from Shive-Hattery Architecture & Engineering. I’d never read who was on that committee, so I asked Superintendent Tim Christensen for a list of the committee’s members, and here they are:
Kathy Bravard, rural Jefferson; Amanda Schroeder, rural Scranton; Cara Reedy, rural Scranton; Dawn Rudolph, Scranton; Dean Lansman, activities director and high school teacher; Jeff Lamoureux, of Jefferson, former Jefferson-Scranton board member and then Greene County board; David Tipton, Grand Junction, East Greene board; Maleea Gannon, an intermediate school teacher from Grand Junction; Patti Edwardson, middle school teacher from Jefferson; Nancy Kaufman, elementary teacher from Grand Junction; Jenny Wessling, rural Grand Junction; Sam Harding, of Jefferson, former Jefferson-Scranton board and Greene County board; Susan Burkett, former East Greene board and Greene County board; Tanner Stauffer, of Jefferson; Todd Hansen, of Jefferson; Tim Buenz, of Jefferson, technology coordinator for the schools; Wayne Hougham, of Jefferson, building, ground and transportation director for the schools; Brenda Muir, of Rippey, the schools’ business manager, and Superintendent Christensen, of Jefferson.
“The first meeting was May 8, 2013,” Christensen told me. “The reorganization vote had passed, but we still had one more year of East Greene and Jefferson-Scranton being separate. The start of the discussion was what do we want the new Greene County Community School District to look like in 10 years. Updating our facilities and getting down to two buildings came out of these meetings.”
When I read over that roster of names, I know many of them. I recognize all of them as solid citizens, good thinkers and people who have given a lot to our schools and our county.
Their good, visionary work has made this “yes” vote even a simpler decision for me than it usually is. I trust them.
Let’s continue to “Grow Greene County,” as we’ve been saying a lot around here the last couple of years.
You can write the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.