Voters, educators should embrace Referendum 52

Editorial 5/19

This November, with Referendum 52 on the ballot, Washington voters have a rare chance to see a kind of collaboration that could simultaneously enfranchise students, improve schools, build neighborhood pride, foster sustainability, help the environment and create thousands of jobs.
The referendum, dubbed the Jobs Act, and which was passed by both the state Senate and House April 12 (both state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and state Rep. Reuven Carlyle voted for it), will raise $500 million in bonds that will be used to fund energy efficiency projects at public schools throughout the state. Sponsored by state Reps. Hans Dunshee (D-44th District, Snohomish County) and 21 other legislators, including Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson of the 36th District here in Seattle, the intention of the Jobs Act is to create jobs, save taxpayers money, reduce operating costs at schools and in improve the environment along the way.
The schools with the most needs and those with innovative ideas that result in the greatest cost savings will get the most funding. Smaller districts with fewer than 1,000 full-time students are guaranteed at least 5 percent from each round of funding.
So this is a big opportunity for students, parents, teachers, administrators and just about anybody else affiliated with public schools in the state to brainstorm ideas that might bring jobs and innovation to our communities.
Once the referendum is passed, if it passes, school districts can submit proposals to the state's commerce department which will dole out the funding. But schools should start thinking about energy-saving ideas now. And one way to do that is to get students involved. To do that, teachers could incorporate the proposal into their lesson plans by having students work in groups and develop energy-saving ideas for their schools. The ideas can then get worked into PowerPoint presentations. The exciting part is that even the most far-reaching idea may have some merit, and thereby have real-world application.
In 2008, physics students at Montpelier High School in Montpelier, Vt., were challenged by their teacher to come up with ways to reduce energy usage at their school and beyond. Students came up with the following: Connecting two bike routes, adding a wind turbine and an undershot waterwheel powered by the Winooski River and an analysis on the usefulness of the school's walk-in freezer. Another idea was to restore the Lane Shops Dam at the nearby Winooski. Students figured out that by reviving the dam, the power generated would provide a quarter of the city's population with electricity.
Dunshee estimates that projects funded by the referendum could save public schools $126 million annually in reduced energy and operational costs. And the projected reduction of pollution emissions from such projects is equivalent to removing about 130,000 cars from the roads each year.
Construction projects are expected to take place through 2016. During that time, the state will be collecting sales tax and B&O tax from the projects and pouring it into the general fund. Then it will be used to pay debt service to the bonds. But from 2017 through 2020, the state will have to service the debt with no added tax revenue. To do that, the state Treasury Department will draw from the general fund and use sales tax from items like bottled water.
But creating jobs and recharging the state's economy outweigh the drawbacks. And what better way is there to help students get involved, become critical thinkers not just in the classroom, but on behalf of the world that they are about to inherit.[[In-content Ad]]