As two people who have worked on the issue of rebuilding our aging elementary schools for almost a decade, we wholeheartedly agree with the assessment of Portland City Councilors Pious Ali, David Brenerman and Justin Costa, who wrote about the unsound conditions at Presumpscot, Longfellow, Reiche and Lyseth elementary schools and said that upgrading them is a necessity, not an option.

On the other hand, we were very disappointed to read in a separate column by Michael Mertaugh the false claim that studies show student learning isn’t connected to learning environment. Study after study has shown that facility issues like insufficient light (Lemasters, 1997), bad acoustics (Evans and Maxwell, 1999), climate control (Corcoran, Walker, and White, 1988), and inadequate structural band-aids (Branham, 2004) all impact academic achievement.

Also, teacher retention, vital to better outcomes, is also impacted by facility quality (Buckley, Schneider, & Shang, 2005). But regardless of studies, does anyone actually believe that Portland special ed students should be taught in windowless utility closets? Or that students should have to wear headphones to drown out the noise? Or that kids with disabilities should be shipped across town because their neighborhood school is not ADA compliant? Or that 6-year-olds should have to walk outside in the winter to get to the bathroom? We hope not. Unfortunately, all of these conditions exist in the four schools we are looking to rebuild.

But once again, we are so thankful that the councilors have joined a unanimous Board of Education in calling for a $61 million bond to rebuild our schools. We are finally on the verge of giving voters a chance to decide whether they want learning environments that are suited to meet the needs and expectations of our kids, their families and our community.