Education investment paying off

Published Oct 13, 2013 at 05:00AM

Bend is a very privileged place.

Among communities in the nation, it is envied.

Yes, we got hit by a whirlwind recession. And we are not out of it yet.

But in one crucial factor among many, we continue to win. It’s education.

No matter the level of schooling, we are building, as we have in the past, for the future.

And nothing so powerfully and positively affects a community as investments in education. That’s not a new phenomenon here. It’s been going on for decades.

Oregon State University is building a four-year university here, a reality that was inconceivable a decade ago.

Central Oregon Community College is undergoing major expansion throughout Central Oregon. That is terrific, but we should not lose sight of the investments we have made in K-12 education.

A story last week in The Bulletin reported sites for a new elementary and a new middle school in Bend. Once on the ground, there will be 29 schools in the district. What is most impressive is that once completed, 15 of those schools will have been built in the last 20 years.

More than half of the schools in the Bend–La Pine district have been built in the last two decades. That is a remarkable testament to the commitment we all have made to education. It speaks volumes about the community.

Since 1992, four voter-approved bonds have authorized nearly $270-million in land acquisition, construction and refitting costs, a record that very few districts can match.

Beyond the construction, Superintendent Ron Wilkinson pointed to several positive elements of this record. Just the realization, he said, that our schools are growing and not shrinking is enormously valuable. And the community is willing to invest to meet the growth.

“A declining district,” he said, “can be demoralizing.”

Parents, he said, may get emotional about changing boundaries with new schools, but nowhere near as emotional as in a district that is closing schools. Growth means expanding opportunities for students, but just as importantly for educators, he said.

As more teachers and administrators are needed, the district becomes a more attractive place to work and the talent pool goes up.

Of course, all of this is driven by the attractiveness of Bend, which brings families and their children here.

In 1986, there were 7,641 students in the district. Today, there are just under 17,000, the inevitable impact of a beautiful setting, more jobs, more golf courses and, of course, more homes.

All of this growth and change, of course, brings tension.

But how, given the attractiveness of Bend, is tension to be avoided? It can’t. We can plan for, and direct it into attractive outcomes.

Most of all, we should take great satisfaction that it is education, on so many levels, that is one of the beneficiaries.

Is there another community in the nation that can say that half of its K-12 infrastructure is new in the last 20 years, that its community college is the finest in the state, and that a four-year university is under development?

I doubt it.

Think about how new companies will consider this when weighing relocation. Think about the increased educational options for our citizens. Think about the employment opportunities this brings.

Consider the enhanced cultural opportunities that expanding educational institutions bring.

And, think about the symmetry of K-12, community college and university.

It is a remarkable record, which so many fine citizens have built over the last several decades.

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