RICHLAND -- Richland educator Margie Bass said it can get cold working in a 38-year-old building in winter, and hot when the Tri-City sun shines brightly in fall and spring.
"It can be very uncomfortable for students," said Bass, an instructional specialist at Marcus Whitman Elementary School, at a news conference outside the school Wednesday.
And being uncomfortable can distract kids from learning, which is why Bass and a number of her fellow Tri-City educators are supporting a referendum on the November ballot that would issue bonds to make school facilities more energy efficient.
Referendum 52 came from the Legislature, and is intended to create jobs by using $505 million in bonding capacity -- money the state can borrow and pay back over time -- to renovate schools.
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The money would be used to repair aging schools, with the fixes improving efficiency and resulting in significant energy, maintenance and operations savings.
Proponents say it will save taxpayers money over time, and wouldn't add any new taxes, but would extend the existing tax on bottled water beyond 2013 to ensure the bonding capacity.
Schools would apply to receive money for repairs and upgrades. All the school districts in Washington would be eligible, along with universities and community colleges.
Schools would qualify only if the savings from the repairs -- such as to lighting or heating systems -- would equal or exceed construction costs.
"It's all about the kids," said Teri Staudinger, a fourth-grade teacher in the Kennewick School District.
But opponents question whether the measure will create the 30,000 jobs proponents have claimed, and whether it really will benefit the kids at all.
"When we look at the calculations, most of the money would be absorbed into higher education," said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, who co-wrote the statement against the referendum that will appear in voter pamphlets statewide.
"The jobs claim is hogwash," Zarelli said. "When we had the committee hearing on the bill, the numbers of jobs they said it would create is just insane."
Opponents cite state economists' estimates that the measure will create 5,700 jobs -- not 30,000 -- and that those will be short-term jobs, not the kind of long-term jobs the economy needs to rebound and grow.
Zarelli, Senate Republicans' budget guru, said he also is worried about adding debt repayment to an unstable budget, which could see a deficit of $3 billion or more in the next biennium by some estimates.
"It would add $30 to $35 million per year in debt service," he said. "For all those reasons, I think it is not the way to conduct business."
-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; email@example.com