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Shortchanging academics

The USD 489 Board of Education was given a final educational facilities proposal estimate that cost $110 million.

The BOE recently spent $130,000 to fund a physical fitness addition to the high school and is contemplating spending additional thousands for artificial turf on an athletic field. Is anyone considering academic needs?

Curriculum, subject content, remedial tutoring, teacher aides, academic competitions, teaching aids, time for teaching and educational field trips and assemblies comprise academic needs. The facilities study committee appointed by the BOE should also be tasked to determine academic needs presently underfunded or neglected -- a global educational study.

The Program for International Assessment ranked the U.S. a shameful 31st in math, 23rd in sciences and 17th in reading. We focus on physical fitness, sports and facilities, but we need to do much better academically.

Understandably, our schools need maintenance -- clean and working bathrooms, adequate heating, cooling, lighting, etc. -- but old does not equate to malfunctioning or a need for replacement. Essential upgrades for improved technology and teaching methodology should be considered, but the following points argue against construction of any high cost facilities: 1) Our schools accommodated an enrollment of 3,151 in year 2002-03; they must be adequate for a smaller enrollment of 3,013 projected for year 2016-17. 2) There is little correlation between extravagance of facilities and student learning. In comparison with public schools, parochial schools have more basic facilities, yet their students have equal or higher academic achievements. 3) The efficiencies and savings from consolidation of schools will be insignificant when compared with the proposed costs. 4) Consolidation will not improve pedagogy; instructional content, teaching aids, educational activities and teacher competency will. 5) With more schools, children are closer to home and in a smaller group they more easily can experience feelings of belonging. 6) A more realistic figure of 25 pupils per classroom to determine classroom space instead of 20 used by HTK Architects should show that present facilities are more than adequate now and for the future. 7) More classrooms imply a need for more teachers even though fewer students are predicted.

Most people do not choose a career in sports. More resources should be diverted to academic matters to give students the knowledge and skills they need in a competitive labor market.

Milton J. Leiker