With a few unfortunate exceptions, the passion displayed on both sides has been admirable. It is a testimony to the democratic principles that unite all of us despite the differences that might separate us when we enter the voting booth in a little less than three weeks.
With the opportunity to cast a vote quickly approaching, I am in an interesting position. While I have spent the past thirteen years as a Secondary Education Social Studies teacher, I have not and do not teach in Laurens School District 55. The construction and comforts of a new building would have no direct impact on me. However, as a resident, homeowner, and taxpayer in the district, my property taxes would increase if the referendum were to pass. After hearing both sides present their arguments over the past several months and using my own personal observations of secondary education, I have given careful thought to the issue and arrived at my own conclusion. It is in the best interest of our community to invest in a new high school for the students of Laurens School District 55.
Like everyone that pays taxes, I am deeply concerned about how the local, state, and federal governments spend my tax dollars. I have long held to the fiscal philosophy that our elected leaders should be good stewards of our money and not use the role of government to duplicate services that can be provided by the private sector. While none of us like the idea of paying more in taxes, I think we would all agree that it is easier to stomach when we see the benefits clearly at work.
With Laurens High School serving more than 1,600 students, it seems to me that the construction of a new school would be an appropriate use of the taxpayers’ money, show our community’s devotion to our kids, and serve as a long term investment in the place that we call home.
In arriving at my decision to vote for this referendum, I took into account several considerations. The current facility that houses the high school is approaching nearly a half century in age. When taking only this into account, it exceeds the national average for the age of public school facilities. The design of Laurens High School was built for a different era of education and has a number of design flaws that serve as an obstacle as secondary students try to reach their full potential.
Throughout the process of debating this referendum, I have heard many voice their displeasure over a new school. However, I have heard very little in realistic alternatives presented by those in opposition. We owe our children more than a “kick the can down the road” mentality. If the referendum to build a new school fails, it will not end this issue. A “no” vote will only temporarily mask this issue, not solve the obvious problems with the current Laurens High School campus.
The “Vote No” group is understandably fond of making the argument that they do not want to saddle our children with debt. However, they do not seem to mind burdening these same kids with a subpar facility for secondary education that does not give them the advantages needed to compete in a 21st Century economy.
My second reason for being in favor of a new school deals with the various studies that tie a quality physical building to student achievement. In a 2014 study led by a University of Washington professor, achievement was analyzed and compared for students in inadequate facilities and those in newer facilities. Not surprisingly, the facilities that were up-to-date and provided a stimulating learning environment had a “profound” impact on student learning.
As adults, we all surely have learned through the course of life how our environment can either positively or adversely impact the quality of work that we produce. Now imagine that you are faced with the challenges of adolescence and couple that with an inadequate school environment. Regardless of how each of us plan to vote, I know that our community wishes nothing but the best for the students in our district. I believe that as evidence has revealed, one of the best avenues to achieve that would be with the construction of a new high school.
Much of the opposition to a new school has looked for ulterior motives as to why someone would want a new school. With the proper design and care, a new high school for Laurens District 55 would likely last for the next half century. That will outlast this and future superintendents. School administrators will come and go. With support, teachers will start their careers and retire at a new high school. Not only will our kids use the facility, but our grandkids will as well.
While we search for the hidden beneficiaries of a new school, the reality is that the real beneficiaries are the kids in our churches, those that we see in the library and riding bikes on the streets, and those that we tuck into bed at night.
When I ran for mayor of Laurens in 2015, economic growth and development was important for me. While I was unsuccessful in my run for mayor, I feel that a new Laurens High School could be the catalyst for economic growth. Real estate agents will tell you that one of the major factors that people look for when buying a home, regardless of whether or not they have kids, is the school system. As growth continues to move down I-385, people will see the investment that we have made in education and instead of living in communities like Fountain Inn and Simpsonville, they will call Laurens home. As their tax dollars follow, so too will business and through the process, it will help move our community in the right direction.
When my son was born a few years ago, my wife and I had to make some serious changes as to how we budgeted and planned for the future. Our financial decisions were not always easy, but we understood that in the best interest of our son, they were not only necessary, but more than worthwhile. While making the decision to invest in a new school cannot and should not be taken lightly, it does beg the question of “Is there any better investment than the future that is our children?”. I know my answer to that question and therefore will be voting “yes” on September 5th.
Jeff Parks, Laurens, SC