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With the October elections just around the corner, it's a perfect time to reflect on several capital projects approved last year. The proposed new high school at Diamond Park comes to mind. The estimated cost has already increased by $1.6 million. Yet, not a shovel of dirt has been turned! If this project is built, the final cost will be closer to $100 million than the current $60 million estimate. The elected officials pushing this new facility will soon be asking you for more tax dollars to finish the job. Their collective attitude seems to be guided by the notion that if we throw enough money at a complex problem, we can create the illusion of solving it.
Since renovation and new construction are an inherent feature of education, what is an informed voter to do? One idea is to ask the candidates how their proposed projects will solve the chronic problems facing our school district. These include: 1. Lowering absenteeism and truancy; 2. Reducing the dropout rate for minority students; 3. Improving benchmark test scores; 4. Increasing adult mentoring programs at all grade levels; and 5. Stimulating parents to take an active role in their child's education.
If you see a direct correlation between the candidates pushing capital projects and solving these problems, your work is done. However, if you are skeptical about grandiose bricks and mortar solutions, you'll have to dig much deeper. Screening candidates who think outside the box is difficult since the field is crowded with those who would rather spend it than fix it. So do your research and remember, Alaska is a state surrounded by grandeur and grand illusions.