ANOTHER VOICE: Supporting Schools is a proud Hood River County tradition

Hood River County residents will soon receive their ballots in the mail. Among the other measures and issues at stake, voters will exercise a choice to honor a long-standing promise made to our students generations ago: To provide our children with exceptional educational opportunities and strong schools.

In fact, since its charter and incorporation exactly 150 years ago, the Hood River County School District has enjoyed vigorous support from a cadre of volunteers, community service organizations, parent-teacher organizations, local boosters, foundations, and business.

Moreover, local voters have traditionally invested in our schools through the passage of local option levies, construction levies, and other general obligation bonds. Our collective voice and directive has been loud and clear: Put those resources where they matter most — inside the classroom and into academic programming for our students.

These investments have resulted in Hood River County Schools being remarkably effective (as measured by graduation rates and academic growth) compared to similarly sized and resourced school districts across the state. It has made our programs a source of pride and the envy of nearby communities.

In fact, dollar-for-dollar, these investments in our schools pay more social dividends than almost anything else voters can support. Beyond providing students essential skills to navigate life, a strong public K-12 education system produces several “spill-over” effects benefiting entire communities. Such effects can include increased productivity and economic growth, earned income, social stability, and quality of life.

Locally, we have seen how our strong schools can help raise kids out of poverty, deter against participation in criminal activity, and foster a general sense of mastery that persists throughout life. When our students leave our schools, they carry their unique experiences with them by finding local work, pursuing higher education, and raising families of their own. Their children enter our system and the connection between strong schools and strong communities carries forward.

Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, the State of Oregon has persistently defunded its K-12 education system. Currently, Oregon public schools are funded a full $2 billion short of the national average. Such disinvestment strains that important bond between schools and communities. As distributions from the state’s common school fund have fluctuated, and ultimately been reduced over time, our community has risen to the challenge of delivering an excellent education to our youth.

In the face of severe underfunding from the state, our students experience a wide-range of academic opportunities for advanced and applied coursework, fine and performing arts, and championship-level athletic programs, all with comparatively lower class sizes than the rest of the state. These successes have only been possible because of the ongoing support of our community and a history of fiscal restraint and careful budget planning.

We need your help by voting “yes” for Measure 14-58, a school bond that does not raise taxes and ensures necessary capital to keep our schools safe and effective for kids.

By passing this bond, voters will see to it that academic programming and capital improvements are maintained. From constructing new science and engineering labs in upper valley schools to increasing classroom technology and alleviating over-crowding across the district, Measure 14-58 will see that students receive a 21st century education supported by 21st century technology.

Passing Measure 14-58 assures that operational funds for teaching and learning stay in classrooms, rather than being diverted to necessary repairs (i.e., boilers, roofing, plumbing, electrical systems). It makes provisions for replacing our oldest elementary school at the May Street site — which otherwise will require over $17 million to repair — and expands classroom capacity at other elementary and middle schools. Further, it allows for modern safety technology in all our schools to make sure that we are prepared to respond to any emergency or threat to our children’s safety.

The world continues to change at a pace never seen before. But some things endure, such as the interdependence between schools and communities. Support Measure 14-58 by voting “yes” and look after one of our community’s greatest assets — its schools.

Dr. David Russo is chair of the Hood River County School District’s board of directors.

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