Among the propositions and candidates you’ll come across on this November’s ballot will be Measure A, a school bond measure that aims to build a fifth high school campus and update 18 other campuses across Visalia.
Passage of Measure A allows our city to meet a window of opportunity in which to obtain State of California matching funds. In other words, on November’s ballot is the opportunity to double the money for our schools.
High Schools Are At Capacity Visalia’s high schools, including non-classroom spaces such as libraries and multipurpose rooms, were designed based on a maximum desired student population of 1,800. The size and number of classrooms, collaborative spaces, and even distribution of restrooms were put in place based on these numbers. Here’s where we stand on these numbers…
Of Visalia’s four high schools, two are currently overcrowded, one is at maximum capacity, and the last one is only 100 students short of reaching its maximum.
Visalia’s Population Continues to Grow Detractors point to Visalia’s birth rate trends, pushing for a wait-and-see approach, wanting us to believe that our high schools will slowly begin to feel an easing of the burden. While it’s true that population growth based solely on birth rate in Visalia trends downward, this is not our only measure. We must take into account the influx of new residents who see the benefits that come with life in our city—who often arrive with children of school age—including in grades 9-12.
Based on all measures related to growth, our overall population numbers continue to trend upward. In 2017, Visalia’s population grew a whopping 1,914 residents. In fact, 2017 population growth numbers are higher than 2016 by 40%, and population growth in 2016 was 30% higher than 2015. Tulare County Association of Governments projects that Visalia will continue to grow to almost 220,000 people over the next 20 years.
How does that compare with other well-known cities? With almost 134,000 Visalians, our growing city now hovers in the vicinity of cities such as: Cedar Rapids, Iowa (5 high schools); and Columbia, South Carolina (11 high schools). Over the next five years, we may very well compare, size-wise, with: Dayton, Ohio (6 high schools); and Syracuse, New York (8 high schools).
With 30% of our population statistically under the age of 18, a sizable number of our new residents are of school age. I spoke with Visalia School Superintendent Dr. Todd Oto, who stated that Visalia’s student body population increased by 300 students last year. Those numbers consistently grow by 300-400 additional students/year. With an average build time of 18 months to 2 years for a new high school, our school district will be poised to house almost 1,000 students in a newly constructed campus, in order to keep student numbers under 1,800 per high school site.
Wait and See Is Not a Viable Approach Detractors for Measure A state that another high school would simply create empty classrooms in our four current campuses, as high school students are re-distributed to the new campus. This could not be farther from the truth, according to both Dr. Oto and Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Robert Gröeber.
I sat down and asked both Oto and Gröeber what would happen to emptied classrooms in our current high schools if/when the fifth high school is built. I was pleased to hear that there’s already a plan in place to create extra- and co-curricular learning spaces, and to incorporate STEAM, or integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics experiences that support hands-on student experiences that will make students ready for tomorrow’s jobs.
As an Instructional Technology Specialist for Tulare County Office of Education for these last 17 years, I understand the importance of these spaces, as they introduce our students to robotics, coding, design and engineering concepts. They help our students discover where they fit within our rapidly changing economy.
These 21st Century learning spaces await our student population, if you and I create the opportunity for them.
Now Is the Time to Act With our high schools already maxed out on student population, it’s only a matter of time before we reach a crisis. Good decision-making is based on seeing trends occur before problems arise. With matching funds from the State, we have the opportunity, now, to meet our expanding facility needs, for half the price.
Down the road, a new campus will cost even more, and there are no guarantees of matching funds at that time. Let’s not wait until it costs more to our pocketbooks. A savings now will lessen our tax burden in the future.
I am proud to say that I endorse Visalia’s Measure A. It’s time to update our campuses with modern learning tools. It’s time to expand opportunities for our high school students.
It’s time to vote to pass Measure A.
Candidate, District 3
Visalia City Council