By John and Lisa Lacey
Education is the best investment a community, and society, can make. It pays dividends too numerous and valuable to quantify. Our high school students deserve the opportunity to attend school in a building that enhances rather than detracts from the educational experience. While well maintained, Harwood has many outdated and obsolete systems on the brink of failure. It needs several functional upgrades and expansions to comply with essential standards. The interior is dark, poorly lit, leaky and desperately in need of changes and reorganization to reflect the educational evolution that has developed over the past 50 years. Can you imagine driving the same car that you did in 1967? That is what we are asking our high school students and teachers to do -- all day, every day.
Almost six years ago, the former Harwood Union School Board set aside work on the then-needed bond project in deference to the Act 46 merger being mandated by the state. At the time, the Harwood facilities project included an estimated $15 million in deferred maintenance. In 2016, our voters approved the merger, having been led to believe that the unified governance structure and the opportunity to find budget efficiencies would make the project both easier to achieve and more affordable for taxpayers. The current Harwood Unified Union School District Board has yet to make good on the statewide goals of merger: equity, improved quality, efficiency, transparency and increased value -- but finds itself on the brink of fulfilling some of the local promises. Over the next six weeks, the Harwood Unified Union School District Board will be making several decisions of consequence in its work to put a bond question before voters in November 2021.
Given the generational nature of the decision and desperate need for maintenance upgrades at the facilities, now nearing $20 million in cost, this is an appeal to parents, the community and taxpayers to take notice and show their support for moving the project forward on the current timeline. We have to stop kicking the (rusty) can down the road.
Our high school facilities should express to our students and the public at large, the value and pride that we as a community place on education and on our children. An updated and renovated Harwood stands to attract and retain more students. As a parent of sixth graders, I hear an amazing amount of talk about where families will send their students instead of sending them to Harwood. This is wrong and unfair to those who cannot afford private school, or who believe in the value of a public education that takes place within the community. A further deferred project will send the message that the board does not prioritize our current or future grade nine through 12 students. Accordingly, students and families who have the means and ability to do so will start looking elsewhere. That will come at a cost to our community and taxpayers. Harwood is the one building that all of our children and students attend, no matter their town of residence or school of choice. As a broad community, let’s prioritize and support the work it so desperately needs. The time is now.
Information on previous and current Harwood planning and bond work can be found at: https://huusd.org/prek-12-bond-plan.
The Laceys live in Waitsfield.