EDITORIAL | Voters should embrace Referendum 52

With Referendum 52 (dubbed the Jobs Act) on the ballot this November, Washington voters have a rare chance to see a kind of collaboration that could motivate students, improve schools, build neighborhood pride, foster sustainability, help the environment and create hundreds of jobs.

The referendum — which was passed by both the state Senate and House April 12 — will raise $500 million in bonds that will fund energy-efficiency projects at public schools throughout the state. Led by state Reps. Hans Dunshee (D-44th District, Snohomish County) and 21 other legislators, the intention of the Jobs Act is to create jobs, save taxpayers money, reduce operating costs at schools and improve the environment in the process.

The schools with the most needs and those with innovative ideas that result in the greatest cost savings will get the most funding. Smaller districts with fewer than 1,000 full-time students are guaranteed at least 5 percent from each round.

This is a big opportunity for students, parents, teachers, administrators and just about anybody else affiliated with public schools in Seattle to brainstorm ideas that might bring jobs and innovation to our communities.

If and when the referendum passes, school districts can submit proposals to the state’s commerce department, which will dole out the funding. But schools should start thinking about energy-saving ideas now, and one way to do that is to get students involved.

Teachers can incorporate the proposal into their lesson plans by having students work in groups and develop energy-saving ideas for their schools. The ideas can then get worked into a slide-show presentation. The exciting part is that even the most far-reaching idea may have in it a concept that could have a real-world application.

In 2008, high school physics students in Vermont were challenged by their teacher to come up with ways to reduce energy usage at their school and beyond. Students came up with the idea to connect two bike routes, adding a wind turbine and an undershot waterwheel powered by the Winooski River.

Another was to restore the Lane Shops Dam at the nearby Winooski. Students figured out that reviving the dam would pay for itself in four years and provide a quarter of the city’s population with electricity.

From our state, Dunshee estimates that projects funded by the referendum could save public schools $126 million annually in reduced energy and operational costs. And the projected reduction of pollution emissions from such projects is equivalent to removing about 130,000 cars from the roads each year.

Construction projects are expected to take place through 2016. During that time, the state will collect sales tax from those projects. But from 2017 through 2020, the state will have debt service to pay with no added tax revenue. The state Treasury Department will draw from the general fund, bolstered by tax increases to service that debt.

But the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. And what better way is there to help students to get involved, to become critical thinkers not just in the classroom, but on behalf of the world they are about to inherit.[[In-content Ad]]