EDITORIAL: Ontario voters should say yes to better schools

A community’s investment in its children is essential, and Ontario School District officials want local voters to invest another $25 million. That’s a big swing for Ontario, and taxpayers need to weigh the choice carefully.

Ballots going out next week will ask voters in the Ontario district to tax themselves for the next 20 years to pay back the $25 million proposed for school buildings and improvements. As they calculate the impact, the cost would be roughly $1 for every dollar in taxable property value. That means $200 a year for a $200,000 property.

Taxpayers are still paying off the last borrowing by the school district, from a bond voters approved in 2010. The tax bill for that runs several more years. Additionally, local taxpayers get a new bill this year when the Ontario Recreation District joins governments relying on the property tax.

It doesn’t take a political wizard to realize people are weary of taxes. The Oregon Legislature isn’t allaying that unease with its raft of ideas for how to reach deeper into taxpayer pockets.

But schools and education are about more than just dollars and cents.

In ways large and small, Ontario and the broader Malheur County community demonstrate day by day their intent interest in taking care of kids. That would seem to be the reason voters created the new recreation district – to safeguard youth programs for the area.

The proposed Ontario school bond won’t put another teacher in a classroom or buy a new set of textbooks. Instead, every dollar would go into the school houses. District officials and citizen volunteers make the case that Ontario school buildings are aging and ailing. Patching and duct tape get you just so far. They also make the case that local schools aren’t as secure as they should be.

Voters in Ontario should recognize what voters in Nyssa and Vale did in recent years when they passed school bond measures. Decent schools are important for teaching kids, just like skilled first-grade teachers and able counselors. Consider them one of the tools of the profession. And the better the tools you have, the better the job can be done.

But there is a broader reason to consider supporting Ontario’s bid. The community has been struggling hard to re-engineer its image, to be seen as a place of progress, as a place for people to come and live. Determined people are working on various fronts to boost the economic and social vitality of Ontario.

There is no more bedrock asset to that vitality than good schools. People often decide where to live based on what life will be like for their kids. And what is usually the first consideration? What are the schools like where their sons and daughters will attend? That means, of course, what will happen in the classroom. But part of the equation also is the schoolhouse itself. Like shopping for a house, parents will question a district where paint is chipping, windows wheeze, and hallways are makeshift classrooms.

The Ontario School District deserves the community’s support for this measure. In recent years, school officials have significantly moved the needle on local education. The climbing high school graduation rate is Exhibit 1. Voters should trust that district executives and civilian school board members who can deliver that sort of result know well the needs for their buildings. Voters should trust that the school system, the community, and the students would benefit for decades from a yes vote for Ontario schools.

– LZ

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