While a victor of the presidential election proved difficult to determine, education initiatives won big on Election Day, especially with regard to school construction and facilities. The nation's voters last month approved almost all school-funding proposals. Among the standouts:
- Arizona passed a referendum that would raise the state sales tax to 5.6 percent from 5 percent to pay for such things as school construction and repair, smaller class sizes and a longer school year.
- A measure was passed in California that will make it easier for school districts to pass construction-bond issues by reducing the vote to a 55 percent majority from a two-thirds supermajority.
- Voters in a dozen Colorado school districts approved school-construction bonds totaling $654 million. In addition, nine of 14 property-tax increases proposed for schools passed.
- Hartford, Connecticut voters overwhelmingly approved a $825 million capital-improvements plan to renovate each of the district's 22 school buildings.
- North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a $3.1 billion bond issue to construct new buildings and renovate and modernize existing facilities at the state's colleges and universities. In addition, voters in Wake County passed by a comfortable margin a $500 million bond referendum.
- Oklahoma passed a referendum that would amend the state constitution to allow individual school districts to eliminate annual votes on school levies with approval from local voters.
- An initiative was passed in Washington state that would devote a portion of state lottery funds to school construction and education programs.
Even though state and local education initiatives were successful, as of this writing, education support at the federal level was still at an impasse. A proposed record-breaking education-funding plan slipped through the cracks during Congress' lame-duck session due in large part to the uncertainty of who the next president will be. The initiative would have been the largest-ever single increase in the Education Department's budget - a 21 percent jump of roughly $7.5 billion from last year.
Included in the spending plan was $1.3 billion for school construction. While equal to the amount President Clinton requested, it deviated from his plan by allowing districts to spend some of the money on education needs other than facilities.
Support at the polls for school construction and facilities is a welcome sign, and is vital as districts across the nation scramble to provide new and improved buildings for current and future students. But as more money becomes available for construction, administrators must ensure that time, energy and dollars are well-spent - upfront - on planning and design. By spending more in the beginning, a significant amount can be saved in the long run.
And we all know about the importance of good planning and design. After all, wasn't it primarily a lack of planning for potential voting irregularities and poor design of ballots in a number of counties in Florida that prompted the presidential-election fiasco?