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Editorial: Keep up school dialogue

In a communitywide survey, Ellsworth school officials tapped district residents for feedback about the schools' future direction and now it's time for them to respond to the issues which have been raised.

After getting survey results (over 450 people gave input), the local school board decided not to go to referendum about facilities improvements, a matter receiving ongoing attention. Despite that decision, the condition of the elementary schools and a portion of the high school, among other upkeep, must still be addressed.

Board members felt covering operational needs was of more immediate importance, so they opted to advance to voters a revenue cap override proposal. In recent years, the district has operated under another override approved by residents earlier, but it's nearing expiration. If successful this time, the plan calls for making some facilities upgrades and meeting transportation needs using part of the amount being requested: $950,000 per year over six years.

Considering the present economic climate, declining enrollments and ever-tighter budgeting, a curtailed approach seems inevitable. Indeed, survey respondents reportedly emphasized the basics when it comes to teaching, cost effectiveness of operations including energy efficiency plus concern about taxes as one of their most common comments.

In light of those realities, the chances for any referendum to succeed might appear to be low. Fortunately, however, district inhabitants may have come to understand the financial dilemma the local schools face, as the idea of an operating referendum was supported by a rather high 43 percent of respondents. Revenue increases here have been limited by state law to approximately 2.8 percent annually while inflationary increases of over four percent annually have occurred, creating a gap. The only options to make up that gap are either to cut programs and services or obtain voter approval for a revenue cap override.

The way to proceed with building renovations isn't as clear-cut. An even higher 54 percent of respondents said they could get behind a financial investment at the elementary level, but were divided on how this should be done. The choices presented included upgrading the two existing elementary schools or building one new elementary near the middle school.

The former could satisfy more neighborhood interests in the geographically large district. On the other hand, the latter (favored by a lesser 35 percent of survey respondents) could reduce the expense duplications associated with two locations.

Regardless of the financial situation, a deteriorating physical plant isn't acceptable. Facilities which have served for almost 50 years without major overhauls cannot be expected to continue to be adequate. Hopefully, school officials will get the backing they seek to act on maintenance, then keep up the dialogue in dealing with renovation challenges.