The other night in his address to the nation, President George W. Bush quoted Yogi Berra: "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." Like many aphorisms that have been attributed to Yogi, this one doesn't completely make sense and yet we know full well what he meant: In life, you may be faced with hard choices but, with courage and wisdom as your guide, you are sure to take the right road. Well, educationally and financially, we in Port Washington have come to such a fork. And we better take it.
This fork now facing us actually has several paths to follow. First, we can simply decide to abandon education in Port Washington, and pay nothing. That, of course, is just plain and simple irresponsible and likely not the idea of any reasonable citizen in this community. Second, we can try to finance changes in the schools with multiple small bonds, fixing one problem at a time. That is financially ruinous and educationally silly. Not only would it cost in the long run far more than this bond would cost - as the cost of living, inflation and the price of many small projects (rather than a single one with its economy of scale) consume more and more of each dollar spent - but it would be grossly unfair to students and their parents. Who gets their school fixed today and who must wait for five or 10 years? What exactly are the problems that would be shunted aside? How do you prioritize inadequate facilities for Daly vs. Manhorhaven students? elementary vs. middle school vs. high school?
Third, we can sit around and hope that in the next year or two or three we can do something in a single bond but for far less than the one proposed by the board and the educational professionals of this town? This is probably the most seductive idea but a notion as doomed to failure as the previous two. This board, led by the fiscal conservatives who were instrumental in defeating last year's bond, tried mightily to find the most economical, prudent, practical, solutions to school problems without spending like this town had unlimited financial resources. It doesn't, the board knows it doesn't and this bond, $20 million less than the previous one, reflects the best ideas in cost-savings without sacrificing quality.
The idea that somewhere out there is a bond that would save us an additional $10 or $20 or $30 million is simply a flight of fancy. There is no reason to believe that we can fix our schools now in a way that will not require future bonds and future divisive community struggle, for less than what this board has proposed. There is nothing by any professional who had studied the data of construction needs, construction costs and balanced all of that against educational imperatives who has come up with any real ideas. All that is out there is sheer speculation that we must be able to do this for less. Well, we can't.
Not only can't we do this for less, we simply don't have the luxury to mull this idea over any more. We are at the fork in the road now. Say "no" to the bond and you will guarantee overcrowded classrooms, inadequate libraries, computer labs and science facilities, and gyms that can't sufficiently serve the community. People who grew up in Port Washington 30 or 40 or 50 years ago were not relegated to an inadequate school system. Nor should the children of tomorrow be so shortchanged.
The bond proposal, passed unanimously by a board of education that has generally not agreed on much, is this community's last and best chance to make sure we will be able to provide quality education in our schools without paying exorbitant sums of money in hiccup-like fashion. The board looked to a new team of construction professionals and brought a tightfisted perspective to evaluating costs and educational needs. It listened at length to the educational professionals in the district but pushed them to provide not a wish list for the bond but the changes that were essential to a quality school system. In the end, this is the best proposal for helping our schools and our students. The change do not come for free. But for an average cost to homeowners in Port Washington of approximately $383 per year, that seems to this stingy, tightfisted voter as not unreasonable in light of the return we should get on our money and the alternative - of which there is none. If we vote "yes" on this bond on March 19, we will have taken the correct fork in the road. It would make Yogi proud.
Eric M. Kraus