Letter to the Editor: Is debt from fifth high school worth extracurricular activities?

Dear Editor,

What will Visalia students and taxpayers get if Visalia Unified decides to build their proposed $189 million high school? A fifth high school would allow about 60 more kids to play varsity football, about 40 boys and girls probably could play basketball, another 40 could compete in soccer—the list goes on. More kids could participate in cheer leading, theater, swimming, debate and other activities.

It is a lofty goal to say “We should spare no expense for our kids.” But high school enrollment will peak in about two years—are we really prepared to take on more debt?

Taxpayers will have to pass another local bond for about $115 million to build that school. That is because the School Board had only budgeted $75 million from our last bond, Measure A, for a potential new $150 million high school. They expected the State to pick up the rest. But the State’s own March 3rd bond failed—they will probably now be unable to provide a penny to VUSD for several years. Plus, the projected cost has increased from $150 to $189 million.

How badly do we need a fifth high school? Robert Groeber, assistant superintendent for VUSD, was quoted in the March 11 edition of The Sun-Gazette stating “…folks think this high school is about growth and its not about growth.” Going on he said “…in smaller high schools, more kids have the opportunities to participate in those extra- and co-curricular activities that connect them to school.”

Obviously more kids will be able to participate in varsity sports plus theater activities and others—but that now is apparently the primary reason for building this proposed $189 million palace. Mr. Groeber’s re-acknowledgement that high school enrollment is not growing is certainly unlikely to persuade voters to pass another massive local bond.

Over two years ago, November 2017, Mr. Groeber publicly told the “Facilities Committee” that their objective is to have five high schools with 1,600 students in each. Former superintendent Todd Oto confirmed that number. 

So, it is frustrating to have VUSD board members and senior managers in the district continue to insist school enrollment will grow because Visalia is building new houses. The facts—in the last 18 years, Visalia’s population has grown by 40% but VUSD school enrollment only grew 21%. Due to a declining birth rate, California’s Department of Finance already forecasts statewide K-12 school enrollment will drop by 450,000 kids by the 2028/29 school year. Tulare County is projected to decline by 7,900. Our high housing costs, plus repaying student loans, has forced many young couples to limit their family size.

Jerrold Jensen

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