May 15: a day of reckoning for local schools

Published on Thu, May 10, 2001 by Soren Velice

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May 15: a day of reckoning for local schools

By Soren Velice

The moment of truth is fast approaching for the Blaine school bond issue; voters will decide the $20 million question on May 15.

To educate the electorate, the district formed a committee of school employees, business people, retirees and other community members interested in the bond.

“We’ve got retired people, people with grandkids and people with kids in the group,” said committee chair Todd Berge.

Berge said the group’s mission was to clarify the district’s needs and to give input on what issues members think are important. School officials and committee members named overcrowding in classrooms as the biggest concern. “We’re getting overcrowded now,” he said. “If we don’t do something now, we’re just going to have to face it later.”

Some residents not on the committee, however, are concerned about spending money for future problems in the face of Whatcom County’s bleak economic forecast. “With the community in crisis the way it might be with job issues and the electricity crisis,” resident Lori Furman said in an interview, “how can they ask for money they don’t need now?” School officials, however, say the money is needed now; they cite middle school classes taught in high school rooms, lack of fire suppression systems in the elementary and high schools and a phone system operating beyond capacity.

Committee member John Choulochas said he’s glad the district favors permanent construction rather than portable classrooms. “It’s important to get away from the fallacy of having portable classrooms,” he said. “In my experience they end up permanent; it just doesn’t make sense to do that if you have a choice.”

Choulochas also said some less obvious issues are important to the learning environment. “To sustain a high quality system, there need to be a number of physical improvements made to the school,” he said. “Door locks, fire protection, the convenience for young people to have a cafeteria; these are all important building blocks for a quality education.”

Pam Christianson, whose kids all graduated from Blaine high school, said she also thinks a lunchroom is important. “From the time my kids were little and went to Blaine schools, they never had a cafeteria,” she said. “They had to go to the gym to eat their lunch and I think they still do.”

Berge said security is one of his biggest concerns. “Driving through the school parking lot at night, it’s pretty dark and it can get congested,” he said. “In my personal opinion, I hate to see something happen if we can prevent it right now. If we look at Columbine and other events, everyone can agree we don’t want something like that to happen here.”

Former city council member David White said he hasn’t decided how he will vote, but doesn’t like the idea of raising property taxes.

“The city of Blaine said ‘no new taxes’ a couple years ago,” he said, “and they bumped them up four percent; some people are saying they don’t have more to give.”

Resident Anna Workentin said Blaine’s many retired people shouldn’t be asked to help pay for a bond that won’t benefit them. “A lot of these people are on fixed incomes,” she said. “They’re retirees who have no children in school.”

Choulochas, however, disagreed on both counts. “I’m one of those people who has good reason not to want to raise taxes, but I also realize the value of a good education,” he said. “Hearing conversations in the community, it’s obvious to all of us it’s a well-run system and (district officials) are good stewards of money; they need to make these changes now.”

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