View From Lodi, CA: More Immigrants, More $chool Con$truction ($$), More Sprawl
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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the endless number of school construction bond issues presented to the beleaguered taxpayer to finance more and more schools.

Year after year, public school construction squeezes tens of millions of dollars out of the increasingly hard-pressed wage earners' pocket books.

The battle cry: "We must do it for the children."

Without dwelling excessively on why that phrase is fast becoming one of my least favorites, I will mention that I think it is time to concentrate on the needs of those of us who have made it to adulthood.

And one of the most pressing concerns of California's mature population is to retain the quality of life that was once synonymous with our state.

Building schools at a rapid-fire pace not only drains our bank account but also is one of the leading contributors to urban sprawl, the bane of California.

Wherever you live, you have seen large schools—mostly high schools—with gigantic playing fields built outside of the city center and serviced by buses—at an annual cost of $10 billion nationwide—that bring children to school every day from miles away.

Behemoth schools create additional traffic and pollution that go hand in glove with an excessive number of cars in a tight area.

Look for example at the Lodi Unified School District's newly opened McNair High in north Stockton. The school—which will cost nearly $80 million when all the bills are in— is on nearly 50 acres of land just off the heavily trafficked West Lane Road.

Good luck to you if you are traveling on West Lane around 7:00 A.M. or 2:30 P.M. The traffic is so dense around McNair that the most popular pick-up/drop-off point is the convenience store across the street.

Over the past few years, important studies regarding school construction have been conducted by the Planning Commissioners Journal, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the nonprofit civic organization New Schools, Better Neighborhoods and the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

Their findings have much in common. All the studies identified super-sized schools as not only major factors in land consumption but also ineffective environments for quality education and bad physically and emotionally for kids.

Here are some conclusions:

  • Mothers with school-aged children make 20 percent more trips than the average woman and 21 percent more trips than the average man. Schools with few safe sidewalks or bike paths create more dependence on the automobile.

  • New schools that are built in previously undeveloped areas become magnets for housing developments thus creating more sprawl.

  • Large "drive-to" schools located outside of thriving neighborhoods cannot be the focal point of after school or evening activities that create greater harmony among students and staff.

The solution lies in the concept first introduced by the U.S. Department of Education in 2000 in its reports, "Schools as Centers of Community." The Council of Educational Facility Planners further developed this idea.

The CEFP, an Arizona-based professional association, insisted for years that a 500-student elementary school needed 15 acres and a 2,000-student high school required 50 acres has changed its mind.

But now it sees the multiple-use, smaller school as having all the advantages.

Not only do smaller schools reduce sprawl and create a healthier atmosphere for students but also by having multiple uses, the schools can serve as gathering places for the community. Even adults without children could benefit.

In many cases, older schools—long out of use—can be renovated. Lodi's Lincoln School is an excellent example.

To end school sprawl and give the kids a better shot at a top notch education, here's my check list:

  • make the most of existing structures;
  • resist the temptation to build on the outskirts;
  • think small; and. most of all.
  • keep community well-being as a top priority.

Accomplish those objectives and good things will follow.



I asked Roy Beck, one of the nation's leading experts on immigration-driven sprawl, to comment on the impact of school construction on land use. Said Beck, who is the Executive Director of NumbersUSA.Com and Sprawl City.Org:

"Most local school bonds for building new structures are overwhelmingly costs imposed by the federal government's immigration policies.  Close to 100% of the growth in the school population over the last two decades has been from children of immigrants. Without our recent massive levels of immigration, there would be no need for school bonds because regular tax revenue would be plenty for the upkeep of existing schools and the occasional replacement of schools that wear out. Without a rapidly growing student population due to immigration, there simply would be little need in this country for expanding the number of schools."

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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