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VOTE 'YES' ON THE BOND ACT TO UPGRADE AND UPDATE THE STATE'S ANTIQUATED SCHOOLS

It's hard to believe that some people would actually work against making sure that our children study in public school buildings that are safe, healthy and good environments for learning -- but that's exactly what's happening.

The state Conservative Party and lobbying groups like CHANGE-NY are busy trying to convince voters that spending money on school repairs is unnecessary, and that they should reject the $2.4 billion School Construction/Rehabilitation Bond Act on Election Day.

School-repair opponents have callously disregarded overwhelming evidence that reveals too many of our state's public schools pose unhealthy and sometimes dangerous conditions. They've also ignored research that clearly shows that overcrowding and poor conditions have a negative impact on learning -- a significant finding at a time when students are being held to higher academic standards.

And, although School Bond Act critics would have you believe otherwise, decaying and crumbling schools do not exist only in New York City: They can be found from one end of our state to the other.

Schools in Buffalo, for example, are in dire need of repair, expansion and modernization. With an average age of 65 years, it's no wonder that most city school buildings need major infrastructure work. Overcrowding is a serious problem in about a dozen schools. And most of the city's school buildings do not have the wiring -- or the computers -- for students to learn about and use the Internet.

Parents in Lackawanna are up in arms over the deplorable conditions at the Washington School, where a sewage backup soaked the carpeting. In small districts like North Collins, money from the School Bond Act would help renovate and modernize buildings that are worn and in disrepair. Suburban Orchard Park is taking steps to repair leaky roofs on three schools but still lacks enough computers and network connections for all students to use the Internet.

In Orchard Park, Hamburg, West Seneca and North Tonawanda, among others, voters have already given the go-ahead for major renovations, new technology or expansion to accommodate enrollment booms. That's happening in other parts of the state, as well. But in many cases, these borrowing plans represent a drop in the bucket when measured against a district's true needs. And what about those communities unwilling or unable to foot the bill?

The School Bond Act could ensure that kids, no matter where they go to school, will have decent learning environments. It also could help lower the debt burden in those communities already trying to update.

A well-publicized study by New York State United Teachers -- the first-ever to catalog conditions in the state's public schools -- found that nearly one-quarter of the state's 4,000 public school buildings pose considerable health or safety risks to students. It found 934 school buildings -- including 574 outside of New York City -- that were uncomfortable, unsafe or both.

Leaky ceilings, bad wiring, the absence of safety equipment, overcrowding, falling plaster, broken plumbing, dangerous asbestos, lead in drinking water, faulty heating and cooling systems and unhealthy air quality were just some of the conditions reported in the teachers' study.

Don't believe it when School Bond Act opponents tell you that all public schools are being fixed on a local, case-by-case basis. Many school districts have had to defer maintenance and cut spending -- and have been afraid to risk taxpayer wrath by proposing expensive, large-scale local borrowing plans.

Many schools, too, still have classrooms with only one or two electrical outlets -- making it virtually impossible for students to use computers.

Attempting to portray this School Bond Act as wasteful does a tremendous disservice to our children and their futures. Those who are working against giving our students the right to learn in a healthy, danger-free, modern environment should take a long, hard look at their list of priorities. If they really want to "change New York," there's one sure way to do it: by voting "yes" on the bond act and giving our public school children what they deserve.

THOMAS Y. HOBART JR., a resident of Williamsville, is president of New York State United Teachers, a union representing more than 380,000 classroom teachers and school employees as well as other educational professionals statewide.

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