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Letter to the Editor

 

Stephanie Scheid Griffin, Owosso

11:15 am

Independent Editor,

Owosso school building improvements are long overdue.

After growing up in Owosso, I moved away for many years before returning to raise my son. While living in other states, I just never experienced the sense of community that I felt growing up here. When I first moved back five years ago, the area was struggling to recover from the recession and the effects were evident in the housing market and empty buildings downtown. Since then we have made an incredible recovery. Unemployment in Shiawassee County is 4 percent – the lowest since 2000. Over 3,100 more people are employed now than in 2010; the median household income rose more than $2,000 from 2013 to 2015; and the median home sales price has risen from $50,000 five years ago to $88,000 over the last 12 months. New businesses are moving to our downtown all the time and thriving.

One thing that I was surprised and saddened by, however, was the condition of our school facilities. After living in other areas that are also very blue collar, but had state- of-the-art school buildings, I assumed Owosso had also made improvements to facilities. Unfortunately, lack of any tax-generated funds has prevented that. The teachers, administrators, and staff are wonderful. Owosso is the leading school in the county and only one to receive national recognition. The array of courses offered and number of college credits kids can earn is unrivaled in our area. We also have a program for kids whose educations have been derailed to get back on track and still graduate with a high school diploma – vital to their future and our community’s.

While the middle school is a beautiful historical building, it is no longer suited to be a school. Several serious flaws make it incredibly difficult and expensive to renovate. Its landlocked location, surrounded by the river, city streets and other buildings make it impossible to expand or add outdoor sports fields, parking or safe drop off zones. This is not a matter of the lockers being too small. As a parent, my number one concern is the safety of my child, and as difficult as it is to say and hear, the middle school is not safe. The gym is not safe, the stairways are not safe, the auditorium is not safe, the asbestos ridden band room is not safe, and the leaking roof, which is beyond repair, is not safe. It is virtually impossible to regulate temperatures in the five-story building that approached triple digits earlier this fall and often has snow in classrooms in the winter. The trailers/portables at the elementary schools where kids attend class every day are not safe. Great measures have been taken to make the rest of the buildings safe, but it is impossible to employ the same standards in the “portables.” This proposal is indeed about needs not wants, and safety is a basic necessity for all students.

Band is a source of great pride for this community, yet parents must shuttle in and out of the auditoriums in shifts, and fight over seats at the middle and high schools during concerts because they are one-third the size they need to be. Dance moms and dads haul their kids to Ovid and Swartz Creek for recitals, pouring thousands of dollars into other communities’ economies rather than spending their money right here in our own. Other schools laugh at our middle school locker rooms and gym. The people that say the middle school and portables are good enough most likely have not set foot in any other schools in the last 10 years. They are not good enough. Our kids deserve better.

The projected cost for basic repairs to the middle school is $6.5 million. Renovations were estimated at over $22 million several years ago and they are likely much more now. That would still not gain additional seating in the auditorium, a standard size gym, parking, a drop off zone, or outdoor PE space or sports fields. And only 6 through 8th-graders would be impacted. The $38 million in the current proposal would completely renovate the high school and add on to it for a separate 6 through 8th-grade school under the same roof, impacting over twice as many students and all 6 through 12th-graders. It also improves conditions at all of the elementary schools by getting kids out of the trailers/portables that were supposed to be a temporary fix. Somewhere along the way, like everything else, we have accepted them as permanent learning environments for our kids. They are not good enough. Our kids deserve better.

The argument that this area can’t support a millage is ridiculous when you consider that every single school in mid-Michigan has one except Owosso and Flint, and all but one are far larger than this 4.73 mill proposal. Are Durand (6.7 mills), Ovid (7.8 mills) or Morrice (7 mills) more affluent than Owosso? Are there more jobs in Corunna (4.57 mills with much newer buildings)? Nope. Those communities just made their kids and schools higher priorities than we have. That makes me sad for our kids and teachers. Our last millage expired almost 30 years ago.

In the 1920s, our community invested in our children by building the middle and elementary schools. Nearly a century later it’s time we step up to the plate and invest in the children and future of our community. If we want people to continue to move here, for doctors to want to live closer to our hospital, for businesses to continue to invest here, we must bring our schools to an acceptable level. This proposal does not even cover air conditioning, a pool, or a bus garage that we desperately need. It is needs, not wants, and we must start somewhere. Now. This is not going away. We can choose to take care of it now by voting to approve this proposal or put it off yet again as we have for the past 25 years. Meanwhile the cost will continue to go up and up and we will get less and less for our money. The time is now folks. Please vote “yes” on Nov. 7. Our kids deserve better.

Stephanie Scheid Griffin, Owosso

Stephanie Scheid Griffin, Owosso was last modified: October 27th, 2017 by Karen Elford