When you go to the polls on Tuesday, April 3, to vote on the Southern Boone County R-I School District’s no-tax-increase bond issue to finance an expansion of our community’s educational facilities, please bear in mind the following facts.
The current number of students sitting in Ashland classrooms on any given day exceeds the total number of people living in Ashland just 18 years ago. According to the 2000 census, Ashland had a total population of just 1,869 residents. Ten short years later, the population had exploded to 3,707—a 98.3% increase. Some estimates for the 2020 census place the population of Ashland at over 5,000 people.
No other Boone County community has come close to experiencing such rapid growth. In the aforementioned ten-year span of time, Centralia grew 6.7% from 3,774 residents to 4,027. Hallsville grew from 978 people to 1,491, an increase of 52.5%. Even Columbia, which has experienced more than its fair share of growing pains over the last few years, only grew 28% during that time period.
When it comes to our schools, it is imperative that we stay one step ahead of this exponential growth. While Ashland will likely take over as the second most populous city in Boone County after the next census, its school district has already become the second largest in the county. Centralia and Hallsville each have approximately 1400 students in their districts while Southern Boone has around 1900 kids enrolled from pre-K through grade 12.
You may be asking yourself, “Didn’t we just add a bunch of classrooms to three of our four school buildings last year?” Yes we did. And they are already full, including all eight added to the primary school. And as those kids grow up and move on to the elementary, middle, and high schools, each of those facilities will be stretched to the limit, too.
The proposal that has been approved by the school board calls for construction of a new administration building, which will free-up six classrooms in the middle school currently being used as office space. It is cheaper to build a small office building than new classrooms, so this seems like a wise decision to me.
The bond issue will also pay for a new gymnasium at the elementary school, similar to the one built last year for the primary school. I have seen for myself, while teaching at the primary school, the benefits of the new gym. First, it is big enough to host school-wide assemblies, concerts, youth basketball games, and P.E. activities. I’ve personally seen over 500 people fit comfortably in the new facility, including students, staff, and parents. That would have been impossible in the old gym/cafeteria. The old gym is now used exclusively as a cafeteria for breakfast and lunch. The problem of setting up and breaking down dozens of tables and cleaning the gym floor twice a day, (which cut into instruction time intended for physical education), has been eliminated. Without a new gym, the task of feeding over 400 kids in a timely fashion while maintaining state-mandated learning time would be impossible. This is precisely the problem currently facing the elementary school.
Finally, the bonds would fund a new baseball/softball facility. While this may not seem like an essential item, relocating the ball fields to the north side of the high school will free up additional space for future facilities expansion at the middle school complex. At the current rate of growth, that real estate will most certainly be needed for additional learning space someday soon.
When you go to the polls Tuesday, remember these magic words: No tax increase. Because of the district’s bonding capacity, we have the ability to make all of these improvements at no additional cost to taxpayers. Not every district is as fortunate.
It’s worth repeating: we are fortunate. We are fortunate to be living in Southern Boone County. We are fortunate to have award-winning, exemplary schools. And we are fortunate to boast a citizenry that recognizes the importance of a high-quality education.
We are fortunate, but we are not lucky. Our community and our schools are not the result of luck. They are a reflection of the values the folks who live here hold dear. We may differ from one another politically, but we all agree that providing our children with the best chance of success is of the utmost importance. Supporting our schools is one of the best ways to support our kids.
Please vote YES for our kids, YES for our schools, and YES for the Southern Boone County R-I School District’s bond issue.