New Hampton Middle School bond referendum: If you can afford it, pass it

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It’s a no-brainer to construct a new school building when it’s both reasonable and necessary.

Reasonable means the property tax increase is modest.

It’s tougher to nail down what is necessary. The first thing that comes to mind is when enrollment is skyrocketing and there simply isn’t enough physical space for students. Another obvious necessity is when buildings have been damaged or destroyed by floods or tornadoes. Or, older buildings may have reached a point where they have become unsafe or are so costly to maintain that building new would make greater economic sense.

After a clear defeat of an earlier referendum that would have increased property taxes at $3.20 per $1,000 valuation, the committee now proposes a more modest plan with a more reasonable price tag. The property tax increase of $1.60 per $1,000 valuation would mean that the New Hampton district would continue to have the second lowest school property tax within its conference. It’s just one slot away from being the cheapest, and being the cheapest isn’t always a badge of honor. Sometimes, it’s a dubious one.

According to the school’s website, the assessed value of the average home is $105,098. The taxable value (less than the assessed) of such a property translates into an annual increase of $88 or $44 every March and September.

Raising taxes is always a serious matter. For some, they are struggling just to meet their current financial obligations. A “no” vote from these individuals can be understood and respected. For many others, finding an additional $44 every six months is achievable without tremendous sacrifice.

The tax increase seems relatively reasonable. But is a new middle school necessary?

The New Hampton school district has faced declining—not increasing—enrollment, although it may be stabilizing now. And, its buildings have not been ravaged by an act of nature. The building is evidently safe, or students wouldn’t be allowed to be in them. Maintenance costs are significant, but less than building new. You’re still, though, left with a building that is more than 100 years old.

Perhaps it’s not a dire necessity to build new, but even if it’s not—voting “yes” is a legitimate choice because wants and desires can have real merit too.

Teachers are under pressure to produce results. Parents, legislators and society have the correct and high expectation that our children will become critical thinkers, learn and test well, and be sufficiently prepared for the option of college upon high school graduation.

Any employee, in any workplace, is under pressure to produce results. Employers expect it, but know they must provide employees with the tools they need in order to be successful.

The tools teachers need to become more successful are to have learning spaces where there can simultaneously be independent work in one part of the room, collaborative work in another, and guided instruction for those needing either extra help or given greater challenges in another section. It’s an effort that helps to give every child what is needed, when they need it.

That takes space, and the new facility would provide more of it.

The number one way to improve academic success for all children remains putting a great teacher in every room, no matter the setting. But even great teachers appreciate having tools that help them do their job successfully.

Building a new middle school near the existing high school would also create a more consolidated campus, which creates efficiencies and has many logistical advantages for families. A newer and more expansive school structure will be more impressive to those who have gained employment in the region and who are trying to determine the best community in which to reside and the best school district for their family.

Another thing the New Hampton school district has going for it is that there will likely always be a school in its town. It is the largest town in the county. Unlike some struggling, smaller schools, one question it doesn’t have to answer is whether or not there’s a chance the school will close. That’s huge. Investments made in the New Hampton district will benefit generations to come.

This school referendum isn’t a no-brainer, but it does have plenty of merit. Better facilities at a reasonable cost can validate a “yes” vote.

As long as you can afford the buck sixty.

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