Public schools are public infrastructure, as important to a community as roads, bridges, water lines, sewers, fire engines, ambulances and police cars. But we don’t treat them that way.

Too often we think of education as a benefit for the minority of families who have kids in school at a particular time – and an expensive benefit at that. That’s how you get a situation like Portland’s, where maintenance on the city’s elementary schools was shortchanged for 30 years, leaving all but the newest buildings in a state of decay.

Hall School is going to be replaced this year with a new building, funded mostly by the state. Four others – Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche – are in need of a major overhaul. The only questions are how much work needs to be done and how quickly it can be accomplished.

The Board of Education offers an answer to both questions: Send a $70 million bond out to the voters in November, and begin work as soon as possible. There are skeptics on the City Council who are balking at the cost and the estimated 5 percent boost it would give to the tax rate. And because the schools are not the only public asset on which maintenance has been deferred, they are concerned about fitting these projects in with other capital needs.

Since the council’s approval is required to send a measure out to the voters, a showdown between the city’s two elected bodies would be counterproductive.

A much better course of action is the creation of a special committee made up of four councilors and four school board members, which has been proposed by Mayor Ethan Strimling and will be voted on by the council Wednesday.

The ad hoc committee would be charged with thoroughly reviewing the plan and, if necessary, revising it in a way that would be acceptable to all. This extra step in the process could push the question past the deadline for a November vote, but rushing such a big package to the voters could be a big mistake.

As they dig into the details, committee members should not lose track of the public need for good school facilities. A study by the University of Salford in Manchester, England, found that things such as noise, lack of natural light, mold, temperature and air quality can have an effect of as much as 25 percent on student performance. Modern communication technology makes a big difference in both learning and school security.

It should not come as a surprise. Students learn better when they are not distracted, sick or uncomfortable. But what is not often taken into account is that communities benefit when students achieve.

Good schools boost property values and attract families. Schools are neighborhood hubs where residents interact with each other and their government. Studies show a correlation between school performance and economic growth, because employers can count on a well-prepared workforce.

There is a limit to how much local taxpayers can afford without state help, but they don’t have any more interest in letting schools fall apart than they would living with collapsed bridges or broken-down fire trucks.

The council and school board owe it to the city to find the right balance, and move forward the best bond package that the city can afford.