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Beth Esser: Investing in Madison Public Schools now will help meet mid-century climate goals

Beth Esser: Investing in Madison Public Schools now will help meet mid-century climate goals

MADISON SCHOOLS (copy) (copy)

One of the science rooms at East High School in Madison, on February 12, 2020, which could be remodeled under a successful capital referendum.

I love mid-century design. The colors, hairpin legs and brass accents all appeal to me. Likely because it evokes memories of my grandparents’ home where I enjoyed time with my cousins in a basement filled with mid-century furniture.

If you’ve spent any time in many Madison schools you’ll appreciate some of these mid-century design elements. But unlike your grandparents’ house, which has likely gone through one or more owners and remodels since you spent your childhood years there, our Madison high schools have not been updated since the mid-century. This not only leads to outdated buildings with crumbling and broken tiles, it also results in very energy inefficient buildings. One of the highest expenses for the school district is the utility bill. Our electricity is still generated primarily from fossil fuels in Madison.

In case you missed it, climate change is a pretty big deal and our youth are rightly concerned about it (as are many adults). Carbon emissions from human activity have been rising since the industrial revolution but have risen sharply since, you guessed it, mid-century. In order to avoid the worst impacts climate change poses to future generations, climate scientists tell us we need to reduce emissions drastically by 2030 and to net zero by our next mid-century mark-2050.

How do we reduce carbon emissions? There are two main strategies: one, become much more energy efficient and two, decrease our fossil fuel use and increase our renewable energy generation. The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education recognized the gravity of climate change and the school district’s responsibility to do its part to address climate change when it committed to a 100% renewable energy resolution in April 2019. The district is taking an important step toward meeting its commitments in the resolution with the 2020 facilities referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot. The referendum will finally update the high schools with long overdue improvements that will improve the technology and learning environments for students, and also includes investments to increase energy efficiency and install solar panels on each of the high schools.

This is not only important for the very lives of the children walking through those buildings every day, it’s also going to be a commitment that leads to lower utility bills. The money saved each and every year on utility expenses can be reinvested in our schools to continue the work to be an anti-racist, culturally responsive school district and to teach and lead for equity. This referendum is an investment for our community to have sustainable, just, and equitable schools.

Our youth are counting on us to set in motion now actions that will lead to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Madison youth are amazing and they deserve to have a future where they can enjoy their own mid-century designs in 2050 rather than dealing with the ramifications of our poor decisions of today. Vote yes Nov. 3 to investing in Madison Public Schools and sustainability.

Beth Esser is a 100% Renew Madison member, parent to two MMSD students and MMSD staff member. These views are her own.

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