Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Tired schools
October 19, 2016
It's "fall break" for most area schools. I can tell because just about everyone I know who has children in our school system is on vacation this week or was last seen scrambling for daycare. It's the kids who are too old for a babysitter but too young to be home alone that are the most challenging. I feel for you, parents, having been there. Do your best and relax knowing the time will come when they become old enough and confident enough to confess all they got away with when you were at work and they were home alone. These days, our adult children love to tell tales of adventure, ingenuity and survival of times spent "on their own" when the school closed for holiday, in service, snow or the inexplicable fall break.
In the past, I thought fall break served as a break for teachers and students from school, but recently I have come to believe its real purpose is to give the school a break from the daily burden of its population. Let's face it, our schools are tired. They are getting old. Nevada Union is well passed middle age. Built in 1960, there are parts of that high school that have survived literally thousands and thousands of students walking its halls, utilizing its plumbing, relying on the heating and air systems and it is just plain worn out. Bear River is over 30. How long can these facilities be expected to function as a place of learning for our youth, if we are not willing to maintain them?
When searching for a community to raise my children, in the mid-1990s, the state of the schools played a huge role in the decision-making process. Far above the cost of housing, cultural opportunities or the proximity to hiking trails or other outdoor recreation, one of the first things I looked at was the educational standard. At the time, Nevada County students consistently ranked second in the state in testing. The schools were in good to excellent shape. There was a brand new elementary school built in Nevada City and a new high school that was only 10 years old.
I could not foresee the effects of declining enrollment or the declining state of the facilities.
There is a bond measure on the upcoming ballot for voters to decide if they are willing to carry the cost of much-needed infrastructure repairs to our schools. Now that all of my children are grown, it's easy to ask why I should care or why I should foot the bill? But the answer, for me, is very simple. I see the aging population of this county and the lack of jobs, housing and opportunity that are forcing young people to leave. As a result our tax base shrinks and the ability to pay for much of what we expect: police and fire protection, roads and other infrastructure, etc., are harder to finance.
It is vital to our community that we find a way to replenish our population. That we attract new businesses to our community and that we are able to provide a workforce to existing businesses.
To do so, we have to offer the basics people coming from other areas find attractive which include but are not limited to the aforementioned services, housing and a more than average education system. Not too many young families are interested in having children attend schools where learning takes place in modular buildings that are falling apart, in classrooms with poor heating and air, where plumbing has its challenges and the roofs and drainage less than ideal.
We are a community that raised mostly private funds to build a sports field with artificial turf and install a state of the art scoreboard complete with instant replay, but squabble over the need to have pipes that are over half a century old replaced, somehow deemed as something that should be covered in operating expenses.
My husband and I have lived on a tight budget for most of our married life. We cover our operating expenses and try to include a maintenance line item, but when it's time for a new roof or septic system or other major repair, we will likely need to look for a home improvement loan to tap into our line of credit.
Our school district faces that now on a very grand scale. The repairs are not optional. As a community, we need to decide if we are willing to invest in our future, which means investing in our schools. It's not glamorous. It's not a puppy. But it is a cost we as a community must bear. The Higgins Fire Station closure and resulting increases in fire insurance have recently shown the result of short-sighted thinking. We know for certain whether the bond passes or fails, there will be a price to pay.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is the business development manager at The Union. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org