First off, kudos to the St. Charles School District for paying off existing bonds ahead of schedule. The district's finances appear to be well-managed, which is a big reason that I've decided to reluctantly vote "yes" on Proposition KIDS, despite my skepticism about the flagship product and what I consider to be a flawed campaign.
On April 4th, 2017, voters in the City of St. Charles School District will be asked to consider a ballot measure called Proposition KIDS. Proposition KIDS is a 47 million dollar bond issue that does not require a tax rate increase and allows the District to borrow money to fund capital projects such as building renovations, repairs, technology costs and other building upgrades. The money generated by Proposition KIDS, by law, can only be used to fund renovations, repairs, property acquisitions and other approved capital projects. Bond issues proceeds cannot be used to pay salaries or benefits.
Most Approximately one-third of the money will be spent to build an Early Childhood Center. (Corrected from "most" to "one-third".)
The building of the Early Childhood Center would provide approximately 200 additional spaces for students to enroll in the District and remove some of the burden placed upon the elementary schools currently housing pre-Kindergarten programs.
However, the district has nearly 1500 fewer students than it had 20 years ago, so why do we need to build new classrooms? I posed this question to Chris Bennett, the district's communication coordinator, who replied:
This is an excellent question. There are a few reasons for this. One is that schools use educational space much differently that they did 20 years ago. With the proliferation of technology and changes in pedagogy, today's teaching methods use more space than in the past.
Also, it's been a goal of our school board to keep our class sizes low, the lowest in St. Charles County in fact, in order to increase individual instruction for our students and to enhance the classroom experience for both teacher and student. So, while we do have less students than in the past, our dedication to keeping low class sizes means that same amount of space becomes more spread out in order to achieve this goal.
Finally, we've seen a shift in population the past few years, with the eastern portion of the district seeing quite a bit of growth. This means that schools such as Blackhurst and Lincoln are at capacity to achieve our class size goal and have 2-3 classrooms dedicated to preschool. Relocating these classes to a dedicated early childhood building will alleviate some of the burden placed upon these schools and allow us to offer our community a facility that is 100% dedicated to early childhood education.
There do seem to be some benefits to smaller class sizes, but the research isn't very strong despite the "obviousness" of the conclusion. A lot depends on the ability to provide enough high-quality teachers and facilities -- it's better to have a large class with a great teacher than a small class with a mediocre teacher.
(I couldn't find any more information about the population shift that Bennett referred to.)
Anyway, the plan seems generally reasonable, which is why I'm going to be voting "yes". Two elements of the publicity pitch grate on me though.
1. "Does not require a tax rate increase" -- this is literally true, but I think it's misleading. A bond issuance is exactly equivalent to a tax increase: the bond will be paid off with tax dollars, and if you don't issue the bond then you don't need the tax revenue. A bond is a tax on the future taxpayer. A person who makes the last payment on his 5-year-old car and then immediately buys a new car with an identical monthly payment is still incurring a significant expense.
2. Keeping up with the Jonses. An email I received from the district says:
"Early childhood centers are becoming more prevalent in today's educational environment," said Dr. Danielle Tormala, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction to the City of St. Charles School District. "Due to research showing the importance of early childhood education to the overall success of a child, we've seen an increase of early childhood centers in districts across the region."
Currently, the City of St. Charles School District is the only district in St. Charles County that does not have a location solely dedicated to early childhood education.
"Early childhood centers are now a thing that young families have on their checklist when looking to move into a district," Tormala said. "It's an important thing to offer if you want to remain a viable option within the community."
This is a questionable argument, as the publicity email itself admits in the very next paragraph.
While early childhood centers are becoming increasingly common in the region, their prevalence is not based in the logic of "keeping up with the Joneses", but rather the numerous studies that statistically show their importance.
I've looked into some of the research, but I'd love to know specifically which studies the district relied on to make this decision. It appears to me that Early Childhood Centers are trendy -- oh, and by the way, there's some research somewhere that says you should build one. Great.
Anyway, as I said, I'm going to vote "yes". I've been impressed with the District since my kids started school, and I trust the administration despite my misgivings about the campaign. Maybe I'm just grumpy.