Why we support the Cape Schools bond issue

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Cape Girardeau School District is riding momentum.

In just a few years, the graduation rate has elevated from the high 60s to the high 80s percentile.

School attendance averages are climbing, particularly at schools with the most at-risk populations.

Jefferson School is in the midst of transforming to a STREAM school, with a more hands-on, real-world approach to curriculum. The district for years has been following data to help identify students who are beginning to slip through the cracks. Reading programs, mentorship programs and even athletics are improving from top to bottom over recent years. Still far from perfect, Centralís schools are getting better.

A tax initiative before voters April 2 will keep the momentum going, and potentially take the district and city to another important level.

Itís worth noting the process has not been perfect. The cornerstone project, an indoor aquatics facility, has garnered almost all of the attention. The process isnít perfect, because the plan isnít laid out with specifics. Like the citywide parks vote that passed easily, itís not yet known how big the facility will be, nor how much money will go toward it. The vote calls for a $4 million commitment to add to the $6 million passed by the city voters, and itís known that $10 million is not enough to build the desired facility and more private funding will need to be raised to reach the target amount. Voters here are accustomed to knowing more details than what so far has been laid out with this project, and some factions are concerned the new facility will not be as big, and therefore useful, as the current aging facility at the junior high. What we know is this project, if voters pass the bond issue, will be built near Jefferson School, right off Highway 74, across from Shawnee Park. The idea is such an investment in the south side of the city will be transformative for the children who live in that part of the city, with different levels of programming. Such a facility was built as part of a Purpose Built Community initiative in Atlanta, which has turned that part of the city around.

After learning more about the possibilities of the facility, the location at Jefferson does seem to be the best place to do the most good in Cape Girardeau. The potential benefits of this location outweigh the potential benefits of other mentioned locations. If other nearby schools in the future would decide to use the facility and help pay for operations, itís still located at an easy location, basically one turn off the Interstate.

The school district and the city of Cape Girardeau have earned the benefit of the doubt, having fulfilled tax promises over the years, usually doing better than projected budgetary expectations. The aquatics facility has evolved in scope and purpose over the last year-plus, but we believe leadership at the city and schools will build a good facility and collaboratively put it to good use.

Somewhat lost in all the debate over the aquatics facility is the importance of several other projects, including a $1.5 million early childhood facility, also at Jefferson, that could be transformative for many families. The facility will offer daycare. And the district looks poised to land a $8 million grant over five years to operate the facility. Not only might this help parents keep more of their paychecks, but it will also help address early educational development and help prepare children for kindergarten.

Other projects within the tax plan include repairing roofs and parking lots at other schools.

This tax plan is the third of a three-phase plan. It is a $12 million proposal, which follows two other much more expensive proposals that built a new gymnasium, a performing arts center, a new football facility and, among other things, upgraded the safety and security at all the schools. The aquatics center is but a small piece of the overall pie. A no vote would be a huge lost opportunity. The facility will have to be built somewhere. Jefferson is a good location, and actually an improved location for Central High School swimmers.

Meanwhile, the early childhood facility is too important to pass on, and the passage of the tax will likely allow for more dollars to be secured from private and public grants.

The bond issue will keep the momentum going at Central schools. It will help the education of the students and the long-term success of our children.

We join other organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Southeast Missouri REALTORS in endorsing Proposition Y on the April 2 ballot.

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