Because we’re worth it, that’s why!

October 15, 2018Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of COmmerce

One hundred, thirty-eight million, six hundred and seventy-nine dollars is a lot of dough. No doubt about it. That kind of money can go a long way.

And if you know much about the upcoming Abilene Independent School District (AISD) Bond Election, you’ll agree that “going a long way” is exactly what is intended. An investment in our great city that not only goes a long way, but in my view is one of the single-most important investments we can make in ourselves as a community, at this moment in time.

I won’t bore you with all the nitty-gritty of what exactly that money will be used for, if voter-approved.  But I will provide you a LINK HERE to the very thorough information that our Superintendent, Dr. David Young, had delivered across our city nearly 60 times when I saw him last week. I want to commend Dr. Young and the AISD Trustees for the incredibly thorough due diligence that has gone into this proposal. We should be grateful for the efficiency they’re bringing to the voters next month.

But to make it even easier, I’d invite you to join me and our Abilene Young Professionals as we provide a free community information session tonight at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL), downtown. Come have some food and drink and learn why the Chamber and our Industrial Foundation have endorsed this ballot issue. The details are HERE.

I would like to burn a few more minutes of your time to explain a few of my own thoughts on why this election matters and why the Chamber supports the Bond election.

First, Abilene students deserve quality facilities. Period.  If you really think about how we’ve invested in ourselves – particularly in assets to serve our children – we’ve always stepped up. And frankly, this time should be no different. The schools that will be replaced are 1950’s model dinosaurs with outside doors that remind me of a cheap motel. Who wants lax security for their kids, particularly when the world seems to have no shortage of maniacs?

I also think about the impression that our schools give those who are considering Abilene for an investment that creates jobs or for a career opportunity. Most parents value the academic performance of the schools they choose for their children, and our schools perform extremely well, despite the inadequate conditions. But, we can do better.

I was part of a conversation not long ago as a prospective newcomer was evaluating a move to Abilene. This person was a physician and one that would be a great addition to our area’s healthcare providers. He and his spouse loved the community, but together, the doctor and his wife had deep concern about the quality of our schools – not the academics – but the bricks and mortar. That isn’t good. How many more folks judge us like that? A bunch – too many to tell. And “inadequate” seems to be the descriptive word most often heard when folks describe our schools.

Let me shift to a major focus of your Chamber. Workforce. Undoubtedly you, like many or most of your peers, struggle to find good, qualified, skilled workers and would agree that it isn’t getting any easier. Through the tremendous, painstaking work of Team Workforce, we’ve come to understand that vocational training for our high schoolers is, well, also inadequate. Through a thoughtful, strategic partnership with Texas State Technical College (TSTC), AISD officials have entered into a memorandum of understanding that would place a new career technology high school within reach of many area students – students who have promise of becoming contributing members of your team if properly trained.

Finally, let me shift to the military. Yes, there’s a new Dyess Elementary included in the funding that will replace an aged Dyess Elementary. Why is that important? Because as we learned a couple of weeks ago while in Washington, D.C., future military investment, including aircraft basing decisions – will be based upon the quality of life for our airmen and their families and quality education opportunities for their children.

Also last week, an article appeared in Air Force Times magazine entitled, “Airmen are leaving families behind when assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base because of the lousy schools.”

Don’t believe me? Here’s a link. Have you ever been to Maxwell Air Force Base? I have. I spent a week there back in May while attending the Air War College. It’s a classy place with nice quarters and beautiful landscaping. Top-notch roads. But lousy schools make all of those things not matter to incoming airmen and their families.

Part of the Chamber’s strategy to enhance and improve our workforce is to work to earn the opportunity to retain exiting military members and their families. Here’s something to think about – we will never have a chance to retain them and transition them to the private sector workforce if we can’t get them here in the first place. Schools matter, academically and physically.

Let me toss one more thing at you. I’ve seen some interesting statistics lately. Those statistics show clearly that economically disadvantaged students in Abilene’s public schools have increased steadily from 52.1 percent in the year 2000 (3.1 percent above the state average) to 70.9 percent in 2018 (11.8 percent above the state average). Think about that for a minute. What will our City and its schools look like in another 20 years if we, as a community, don’t act bravely to reverse that troubling trend?  It keeps me up at night. It won’t happen easily. And it won’t get any cheaper if we wait.

I hope you’ll join the Chamber’s Board of Directors and support this important initiative. Need more info? Come have a drink and a bite to eat with our AYP and me tonight at the NCCIL. I think it’ll be worth your time.

Abilene is a city with a big heart, and we love our kids. Let’s prove it on Election Day by getting behind this important Bond election.




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