Friday, November 18, 2011

North valley needs middle and high schools

Jim Slanetz is a Ketchum resident and business owner.


Having just run for Ketchum City Council, I've been thinking a lot lately on how to make Ketchum a better community. One thing that keeps coming to my mind is our lack of public schools at the middle and high school levels. This issue is rarely touched upon, but I think it's very important for the future of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

More than a hundred studies have proven that smaller schools out-perform larger ones at almost every level, not to mention that they are safer and have much better ties to the community. Instead of spending more than $30 million on the new high school when a perfectly functional one already existed, wouldn't it have been much wiser to build a middle and high school in the north valley to have eased the crowding issues that existed? Following the dollar, my math shows that more than 90 percent of the funds from the 1993 school bond were spent south valley and an even higher percentage of the plant facilities levy will be spent there as well.

This isn't a north- versus south-valley issue. It's about having schools be part of the communities and neighborhoods in which we live, and the Blaine County School District has deprived the north valley of that opportunity while at the same time squandering taxpayer money on big and sometimes redundant facilities. It pains me to pay my property taxes knowing these inequities in spending.

Here's a thought: If school is about seven hours a day and students attend 180 days a year, an hour roundtrip bus ride for a Ketchum student adds up to 25 school days per year, or almost a year and a half of school time riding the bus during their middle and high school years. This has to weigh heavily on a family when they are choosing a place to live. As north valley residents, we have to make our voices heard, and challenge the school board to justify its spending.

I know the argument is that the south valley is where most of the families live, but is that not a direct effect of where schools are located? I know many families that have left Ketchum to be closer to the middle and high schools.

North valley citizens and city leaders need to demand that the Blaine County School District provide more localized schools throughout the valley. We should be getting a better product for the more than $17,000 that we spend per student per year. This is an important piece of the puzzle to making Ketchum a vibrant, diverse community, and we need to start the conversation for change.

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