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Guest Commentary

‘A bright future for Bureau Valley’

Editor’s note: The following guest commentary exceeds the BCR’s 500-word limit. Therefore, the BCR will offer the same opportunity to someone with an opposing view. Contact BCR Editor Terri Simon at 815-875-4461, ext. 6330, before submitting.

To the Editor,

The time has come for building decisions to be made in the Bureau Valley School District. As school was set to open last fall, the BV School Board and administration were met with the news a large part of its south campus (the East Tower at Buda) was condemned due to a collapsing structure. A temporary housing plan split the middle school and sent seventh- and eighth-graders to a makeshift area in the high school and rearranged the third- through sixth-grade students in the remaining facilities at Buda (which includes the 90-year old West Tower). The debate then ensued on where and how to house students in Bureau Valley, and more importantly, how to pay for those changes.

The board has been put in the unenviable position of making some very tough decisions to both alleviate an immediate crisis and develop a longer range building plan. They have had to operate most of the year “on their own” with this issue, as they dealt with a mid-year superintendent resignation and a current interim superintendent. A decision was made in February to place on the April 4 ballot a $17 million issue which would: 1. Build a new K-5 in Sheffield to house the present BV South elementary student population; 2. Construct an educational addition along with a public gymnasium at the high school to accommodate the South 6-8 students; the plan would also utilize present space in the high school for the South junior high; and 3. Upgrade the BV North heating and ventilating to include air conditioning.

As with most referenda issues, the board’s decision has sparked rigorous debate. Along the way, the board has been accused of a lack of transparency along with little evidence of “unity” in its process. A larger issue of “central housing” of students vs. community based schools has surfaced, with some in the district favoring sending the entire student population to Manlius. Although mostly advancing their arguments on social media, this group clearly opposes the board’s decision and supports voting “no”on the referendum.

In the interest of advancing argument, I feel compelled to offer a refresher course in Bureau Valley history. Some opposing the board’s decision have stated it was always a goal of the school reorganization to consolidate all students to Manlius. This simply is not true. From the brochure sent to all voters in 1994, the Committee of Ten stated its goals as “one centrally located high school and maintaining attendance centers in each community.” Regrettably, due to declining building conditions over the subsequent 24 years, there are not schools in each town, but the premise at that time was never to have a “central school” to house all of the district’s students.

The charges of lack of transparency and unity by the board are disturbing and misplaced. Governing is very difficult these days, especially at the local level where decisions impact your friends and neighbors. Some level of compromise must exist before anything can be accomplished, or democracy goes nowhere. Observe our state and federal governments and what happens when an “I win-you lose” attitude takes hold and absolutely nothing gets done. It is always refreshing to see how our local government entities (schools, townships, county, drainage, fire, library) through trust and compromise do what they are elected to do; make decisions, and govern!

Enter the Bureau Valley School Board into this environment. A new school housing plan is predicated after a building failure. There is an opportunity to pay for this plan without raising taxes, as the current building bond expires. The price of new construction cannot exceed $18 million, as this is the limit on bonded indebtedness. At public meetings which I observed over several months, the referendum issue that came to be was argued, debated and changed. The atmosphere did not always appear as one of unity, but democratic government was occurring! In a spirit of consideration and compromise, the final plan was developed.

The meeting which decided the final building plan and referendum question is notable. With the referendum deadline near, the tension of the importance and timing of the decision was obvious. Board members made cases for their viewpoints, always expressing the need to get to a more unanimous agreement. In a respectful and compromising process, the initiative garnered a 6-1 vote. There was no can kicked down the road here! Know that your elected school board governed, and did so, placing children first. I commend the board for their efforts!

As we approach April 4, please study this issue and vote. Governmental compromises can leave one feeling hollow, as no one gets all what they want. This is a plan, however, which moves the Bureau Valley District ahead on many fronts, while maintaining financial stability. It alleviates an unacceptable housing situation for the school children of Bureau Valley South. It provides a second gym at the high school site to be jointly used by the high school and junior high. It will provide air conditioning for all buildings. Moreover, it was a compromise decision arrived at by our elected school officials. A vote “Yes” on April 4 will do much to secure a bright future for Bureau Valley!

Robert Elliott


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