Our View | School board, residents win with referendum passage

May 21, 2014 

Education long has been a cornerstone of our area, and there is no better return on investment than supporting learning. It strengthens economies, creates more informed and conscious communities and cuts crime.

That was evident Tuesday with the passage of an $85 million school-building referendum for State College Area High School.

The unofficial vote, 11,121 to 3,975, was a slam-dunk; but it also showed the strong commitment the district and its board — as well as voters — have to create better educational opportunities for our students.

After all, the odds were daunting: In spite of economic hurdles that included a recovering economy, a property tax increase in the district’s 2014-15 budget and what appeared to be a strong contingent of voters still reeling from the district’s failed initiatives a decade ago, the lopsided win Tuesday was unexpected.

Until Tuesday, only one school district had passed a construction referendum since 2006: 15 out of 16 attempts fell flat with voters. At least nine resulted in more than 70 percent of votes against, with one failing 90 percent to 10 percent.

Here’s what went right in the State College Area School District: The community was connected. And that was the school board’s intent since kicking off the referendum campaign more than a year ago. It involved a multiangled approach that included dozens of public forums, votes on an array of designs, endorsements from area business groups and other influential organizations and leaders, grass-roots volunteer groups disseminating information and even a door-to-door campaign that took many school leaders — including Superintendent Bob O’Donnell — throughout the district for several weeks.

School district leaders learned from the past, retooled, and struck out with a resolve and purpose that wouldn’t allow for failure. That move shows resilience and commitment to providing the district’s children the education they deserve. The latest effort also showed the willingness of residents to pay close attention, learn and engage in this community decision.

And although a referendum’s passage might begin with community, it also ends with it.

The success or failure of education isn’t found merely in bricks and mortar; it’s in the very same people who helped pass this referendum. And they need to remain engaged, watch the pennies, continue to add input, attend board meetings and be involved in the lives of all students.

Congratulations to the school board and its administration, but also those who supported the initiative.

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