I have spoken to many groups about the high school bond proposal. I have knocked on doors, fielded questions on the phone and by e-mail, and listened to the concerns of residents who are on the fence, or even opposed to the project. I hear four main concerns.

First, I hear concern over the cost. No one will deny that it costs a lot of money. Unfortunately, this cost is necessary. The current proposal was created through an exhaustive process of designing and redesigning and refining and reducing the plans over a six-year period. The end result has been peer reviewed and picked apart over countless hours of analyses and scrutiny.

Another so-called “plan” to build the school for less is simply a bunch of numbers on a few pages of paper, and no architect, builder, or other construction professional has ever said that plan can be built (in fact, many professionals have said that the cheaper proposal cannot be built – that it is not a realistic plan at all).

Second, I hear concern that property values might go down if taxes go up. There is absolutely no evidence or data to support this. In fact, according to virtually every study conducted on the topic, property values increase when school quality increases. The National Association of Realtors lists many of these studies on its website. Two of these studies looked directly at the impact from increased property taxes due to school spending, and both found that even when property taxes rise, property values still go up.

Third, I hear concern that the risk of having our accreditation placed on probation is not real, or not significant. Try telling that to the residents of Clayton County, Georgia, who saw property values plummet as much as 20 percent after the school district lost its accreditation; or the residents of Lisbon, who voted down proposed renovations to their school, and had their accreditation put on probation almost immediately thereafter. The threat is real, and it affects each and every property owner in South Portland.

Finally, I hear concern that the school will not be properly maintained. While I cannot speak for the practices of prior decades, anyone who tours the new elementary schools will immediately see that the maintenance teams do a remarkable job taking care of those civic assets.

There is also a state law that requires the school to prepare and submit a maintenance plan to the state and to set aside money to cover maintenance costs. The fact of the matter is, the current maintenance crew does an amazing job keeping the existing high school functioning on a daily basis, given the school’s significant age and structural issues.

Voters should not be fooled into thinking there is a viable alternative when none exists. Voters should not be scared into thinking property values will decline if taxes go up, when all the evidence and data show the opposite. Voters should not be coddled into thinking that that the consequences of losing accreditation are minimal, when the stories from communities that have actually lost accreditation say otherwise.

And finally, voters should take pride in the good work being done by the current maintenance staff in the South Portland School District, rather than have concern based upon rumors of poor maintenance from the distant past. Don’t let the angry rhetoric of a select few opponents speak more loudly than the opinions of experts and the stories from real communities that have faced the same problems. This is an investment for all of us – for all of South Portland and its future. Get the facts, and vote yes on Nov. 2.

Jeff Selser lives in South Portland.


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