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Bettendorf facilities plan

The facilities plan the Bettendorf School Board failed to pass at the Feb. 13 meeting included a three-section school to replace Jefferson, a one-section facility with fewer than 150 students, and the two-section Twain school, which has close to 300 students. Both schools were built more than 60 years ago. That plan also included moving Thomas Edison Academy to a new location and selling the current property, as well as a new fitness center addition, auxiliary gym addition, wrestling gym addition and improvements to the swimming pool at Bettendorf High School.

OK, consolidating elementary schools in Bettendorf makes good fiscal sense. But taxpayers shouldn't be expected to sacrifice a city park to get it done. 

It's a confounding double-whammy that should send Bettendorf Community School District officials scurrying back to the map room until better sites are discovered. 

But a park could be the cost of a Facilities Plan on which school board members are scheduled to vote March 5. The plan includes a proposed three-section, $14 million consolidated school that would replace Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Mark Twain Elementary. 

Both are old. Both need considerable work. Both function in a district that's corralled on three sides and has experienced a flat-line in enrollment.

By and large, most of the outcry has focused on the consolidation effort. Parents don't like the idea of a larger campus with potentially larger classes. Homeowners in and around the two out-of-date elementary schools argue the facilities are an important part of the neighborhood and boost property values. And it's this hyper-parochialism that no doubt spooked the school board on Feb. 13 when it first shot down the Facilities Plan by a 4-3 vote.

But rampant reverse NIMBYism shouldn't overshadow the fundamental benefits, and failings, of the district's pitch.

At its core, Bettendorf Community School District has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer. It's the taxpayer who funds the district. It's the taxpayer who would pour millions into rehabbing already outdated buildings in the name of quaintness, should dissenters get their way. It's the taxpayer who would be on the hook for the new school, should it get built. And it's the taxpayer who stands to lose either McManus Park or Edgewood Park, locations specifically targeted in the administration's study. 

From that taxpayer perspective, school consolidation makes a lot of sense. Bolstered economies of scale, by and large, result in significant reductions in operating costs, research says. While, generally, there's an increase in capital spending -- to maintain the larger, more robust facility -- that cost is usually offset by the benefits of a bolstered economy of scale.

And, at the end of the day, students are learning in a state-of-the-art environment instead of a freshly painted shrine to the gods of nostalgia. Once constructed, it would take just a few short years for the neighborhood-level parochialism to give way to an embrace of a unified elementary school. 

In a vacuum, consolidation is a good deal for both students and the people footing the bill. 

Those very same taxpayers, though, stand to lose much more than $14 million in bonds should the proposal become reality. Green space, too, is an important component of any community's social and economic vibrancy. The potential loss of McManus, in particular, would rob an entire segment of town of its green space. The district plan essentially sacrifices one necessary social component for another. It's an unnecessary poison pill that threatens an otherwise sensible idea. It's a nonsensical double-punch to the very people who, for years after, would fund the build-out. 

Bettendorf City Council shouldn't even entertain any effort to transform a park into an elementary campus. And district officials should pump the brakes until they find potential construction sites that wouldn't rob Bettendorf of recreational opportunities.

Until then, the district's proposal is just too costly to the entire community to support. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.


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