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Schools are the price of growth

August 12, 1999

Faced with the prospect of adding more new students to a facility that already holds 1,600, Jefferson County, W.Va., officials say it's time to begin planning a second high school. We agree, for several reasons.

The first is that there's a limit to how many students can be put into one school without destroying the learning environment. In 1996, two University of Michigan researchers concluded a nine-year study which found that the ideal size for a high school, based on standardized test performance and other factors, is between 600 and 900 students. The new proposed school would hold 1,200 when at full capacity.

The second reason is that the growth experienced in the Eastern Panhandle in the past 10 years has a price, and it's time start paying it. In January state officials announced that due in part to growth in the business, legal and medical fields, the average annual salary there had increased by nearly $6,000.

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The other factor in that increase, state officials said, was the number of Panhandle residents who commute out of the area to work in the metropolitan areas. According to the state Bureau of Employment Programs, some of those who commute to work elsewhere decided to live in the Panhandle because of its low taxes, abundant land and good transportation systems.

If you make an area attractive to new residents and industries, it shouldn't be a surprise when the pace of development picks up. To expect it to come without a price is unrealistic. Roads, utilities and yes, schools, too, have to be improved as the population grows.

How big should the bond issue be? Based on recommendations of the Millennium Committee, a 30-member citizen panel which put together a 10-year school-building plan, it could be as high as $52 million, but the political realities will probably keep it below $30 million. Which amount to choose will depend on many factors and we expect an interesting debate, as long as everyone involved remembers that they're debating the price tag and not the need for a new school.

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