September 12, 2008

Bertram Tells Rotarians Schools’ Goal Important to Communitywide Growth

By JOHN MARTIN Courier & Press staff writer [email protected] or 464-7594

Evansville's public school chief argued passionately Tuesday for his strategic plan before a friendly audience of businesspeople and other professionals.

After Vincent Bertram's speech to the Downtown Rotary Club, University of Southern Indiana President H. Ray Hoops rose from his seat and told club members that "nothing's more important to our community in the next few years than getting this referendum passed."

The plan will be decided by voters on Nov. 4.

During his luncheon address, Bertram linked EVSC's plan to the goal of communitywide economic growth.

He noted the community's dogged fight over many years to construct Interstate 69, a battle Evansville ultimately won.

"What does that mean?" Bertram said. ".. It means we need quality schools to encourage people to come to our community"

Bertram, as he does in every speech he gives about his plan, showed a map of the 35 EVSC schools and noted that only one, Scott Elementary School, is north of Indiana 57.

A cornerstone of the plan Bertram is asking voters to approve is the construction of a far north high school and middle school complex. The current North High School would become a middle school.

Bertram said the plan is aimed at improving education in all neighborhoods.

"The needs of our schools are just as diverse as the children in them," Bertram said.

He mentioned the school system's intention essentially to rebuild Cedar Hall, a century-old building that stands to go from K-5 to K- 8. Lincoln, Glenwood and Lodge also would be renovated for use as K- 8 schools.

Bertram said his plan would create preschool programs aimed at families who currently don't send children to school before kindergarten.

Forty percent of EVSC children arrive in the school system "without a quality early childhood experience," Bertram said.E

The superintendent said the $149 million bond issue "will be paid back with current resources" and not result in tax increases.

"If not us and not now, then when and who?" Bertram said. "Our future is now."

After his speech, Bertram said potential sites for the new high school and middle school complex are "quickly narrowing." E

Key considerations will be accessibility and proximity to U.S. 41. Other factors are the location of floodplains and flight patterns to Evansville Regional Airport, Bertram said, adding that the school complex will require at least 100 acres.

Bertram did not rule out announcing a site before the referendum, depending on how quickly negotiations with property owners progress.

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