Sept 12 2018

Once upon a time, the mantra in late May or early June, when the school year came to an end, was: “See you in September!” As kids, we looked at the Labor Day holiday as the last hurrah. D-Day.

More recently, school districts have pushed their first day into August, squeezing maintenance schedules and shortening summer break from just short of three months to something closer to two.

While certainly not second guessing the needs of today’s school systems, it is nonetheless concerning when temperatures reach into the upper 90s, as they did last week. No doubt, it can get just as hot in September or even early October. But they call late August the “dog days of summer” for good reason, and images of kids sweating to death in buses or classrooms — either without air conditioning or with aging, inadequate air conditioning systems — is something no one wants to see. 

Even worse, some school divisions declare it “too hot” to go outside for recess.

Obviously, the safety of students is our school districts’ No. 1 priority, and we know they are making wise decisions. Indeed, some rural districts dismissed early last week in response to the heat. But regardless of intentions, there is no doubt starting school in August, along with the trend of hotter summers, has to put a far greater strain on school infrastructure, and we find that concerning, too.

That’s part of the motivation behind state Sen. Bill Stanley’s tour of aging and obsolete schools across the state. With Virginia eyeing a move to collect taxes on internet sales, Stanley, R-20th, is promoting an idea to use at least half of the expected $250 to $300 million in additional revenue to finance $3 to $4 billion in bonds for new school construction. He has also proposed allowing businesses to qualify for historic tax credits if they donate money to renovate old schools.

Last week, Stanley was among three Virginia state senators visited Fred Lynn Middle School in Woodbridge to hear about the 54-year-old school’s needs. 

Stanley, who notes more than 60 percent of Virginia’s 2,030 schools are more than 40 years old, has seen it all: schools where trash cans catch water from leaky roofs; where children have suffered burns from exposed pipes and where staff members tell of rat infestations.

I think we can all agree these are not the conditions we want our children learning in.

We applaud any effort to find new and creative ways to improve conditions in our schools as well as any effort that draws attention to deficiencies in our school facilities. 

We encourage our local state senators and delegates to use Stanley’s tour as a springboard to listen to our local officials about local school needs. In Fauquier County, the decade-long effort to build a new middle school to replace the aging Warrenton and Taylor middle schools immediately come to mind as a project that could benefit from a boost in state funding.

We need to make improving our aging schools a priority. It’s the least we owe our children.

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