Ron Taylor: Tell governor Merced area schools need help

June 25, 2014 

Our region would greatly benefit from state investment in educational facilities. This investment would benefit not only our students and our future, but also our regional economic development in the near term.

California’s schools and colleges will benefit from Assembly Bill 2235, which proposes an educational facilities bond for the November 2014 ballot. Though the Legislature is still on track to pass AB 2235, Gov. Jerry Brown has not committed to signing the legislation. Many fear that his resistance will stall the measure in the Legislature.

I urge readers to learn more about AB 2235. This bill will provide, if Brown signs it, $9 billion of capital investment in educational facilities statewide. Merced College already has two sorely needed projects on the priority list for this bond, for a total allocation of approximately $22 million in one-time funds.

It is critical for supporters of AB 2235 to make their backing known to the governor and to state legislators. Voters are very likely not to see this bond measure in November, unless they or their representatives advocate with Brown and his staff to get it on the ballot.

I represent Merced College, but there are many school districts and colleges in our region that would benefit from this bond measure. Merced College and its 15,000 students would benefit profoundly from such an investment. Our needs are not merely for improvements, but for critical replacements. Our vocational education building is over 40 years old, and shows it. The same is true of our agriculture building. Both of these buildings badly need to be brought up to standard for current and future students. Local voters graciously approved bond funding to help do this back in 2002, but we cannot use the funds they authorized without matching state funds.

The time has come to ask our state’s citizens to consider investing in their colleges and schools.

An educational facilities bond is a wise infrastructure investment, one that also benefits our local economy. As you know, unemployment is still in the double digits in our area, while statewide unemployment has substantially improved (around 7.8 percent). Investment in schools and community colleges is the most local type of capital investment the state can make; it goes straight into the pockets of local construction workers and thus into the businesses they support. Our area needs such a stimulus. The Bay Area might be seeing an economic boom, but it is not happening here.

Most importantly, our facilities are in sore need of renovation and replacement. Expanding online education is not the answer and does not lessen the need for physical facilities. Online course offerings might benefit some areas, but it is clearly not true here. Our need is to replace aging and out-of-date facilities used by hands-on programs such as agriculture and industrial technology, where online instruction is not a viable approach.

If Brown assumes California cannot afford to issue more bonds, I again respectfully point out that an educational facilities bond is very likely to spur economic growth – particularly in rural areas. Such capital investment will surely create jobs.

California cannot afford not to invest in its future. The governor has taken similar stands on water infrastructure and transportation. I have written to the governor to encourage his support for AB 2235; I urge readers to learn more about AB 2235 and consider doing the same.

Taylor, Ph.D., is the superintendent and president of Merced College.

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