Our children deserve a safe and healthy learning environment. Of course, most people would say they agree. Yet for far too long, our district has neglected routine maintenance and repairs that have only gotten worse with time, and driven up the costs for current and future generations.
As a homeowner, I don’t wait to repair a leaky roof until the ceiling caves in. Yet that’s exactly what has happened in our schools year after year. A look at the photographs in the SOMSD’s own report show the sorry state of some of our school buildings. The question of why this has been allowed to continue is another matter, but these types of problems do not happen overnight. And the longer we take to address these issues, the more it will cost down the road.
Earlier this year, the South Orange-Maplewood School District released its Long Range Facilities Plan, which outlines a streamlined $93.1 million proposal to address just the highest-priority infrastructure issues.
Any homeowner who has solicited bids from contractors knows that such work can’t be done well on the cheap. In fact, when planning any significant construction work at home, there are three competing priorities — cheap, fast and good — and experience has taught us that we can have one or two needs met, but not all three.
SOMSD estimated the bond issue’s tax impact for SOMA residents. For a home with an average assessed value of $497,500 in Maplewood, the tax burden translates into an additional $496 per year. In South Orange, a home with an average assessed value of $581,000 would mean an extra $576 per year.
Expanding the capacity of our schools to deal with a growing student population will tack on an extra $34.5 million to $72.1 million — according to the 10 options presented at the Monday, October 10, board meeting.
This work is critical.
Especially as the district looks to recruit a top-notch superintendent to lead our schools, having community support for high-priority infrastructure improvements will demonstrate to prospective candidates that residents in the South Orange-Maplewood School District are serious about preparing our students for the 21st century.
William Librera, the consultant hired to lead the search for a new superintendent, called the plan “pretty impressive.”
“The decision, I think, was if we’re going to try to do this one school at a time, we’re going to do this in a perpetual cycle,” he said. “You’ve got to get rid of these trailers, and part of the infrastructure plan is to add space to eliminate that. Those are things that are valuable.”
We owe our children more than platitudes. We owe them action.