Don’t make Bowlus scapegoat of failed school bond issue



March 24, 2017 - 12:00 AM

In the next few months a judge will decide whether USD 257 can sever its ties to the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.
That’s the ultimate question in the district’s petition before Judge Robert Fairchild who has been asked to review the will of benefactor Thomas H. Bowlus, who designated the bulk of his estate in 1960 to create the Bowlus Center, with the cooperation of the school district, for the purpose of providing the public and area students a superior setting for the education of the arts.
For whatever reason, school administrators and board members today view this relationship more as a burden, rather than the blessing the Bowlus is. In the petition they have asked the judge if they could be allowed “to resign as trustees.”
My hunch is they blame the ties that bind them to the Bowlus for the defeat of the 2014 bond issue to build new schools. Under the terms of Mr. Bowlus’ will, local students are to use the fine arts facility for such classes.
Even so, music classes have steadily been pulled from the Bowlus. Today, band and jazz band for the high school and middle school are held in the middle school as well as choir and orchestra for IMS students, despite the inferior setting in terms of acoustics as well as the additional “noise” the music classes (right next to the library) create. The only music classes remaining in the Bowlus are high school choir and orchestra.
What a waste.
THE 2014 school bond issue failed for multiple reasons, including:
1. Some did not like the idea of a secluded campus on the outskirts of town;
2. Others balked at the $50 million price tag, even though the state would have ponied up more than half;
3. Some favored renovating  existing buildings over building new;
4. And yes, there were those that feared removing art and music classes from the Bowlus would violate the terms of the trust and thus put the fine arts center in jeopardy, not to mention the loss for area children by depriving them use of the center.
 The Register supported the bond issue because we feel our children deserve better facilities. The Register is also a big fan of the Bowlus because we recognize the gift it is to the community and we were led to believe at the time of the election that the Bowlus would continue to be used by the schools in some fashion.
Iola stands above its peers because of the Bowlus. It’s a calling card to prospective professionals and industries. It raises the bar for what life can be in a small town.
Most people feel the same way, which is why the Bowlus receives such broad support. The Friends of the Bowlus number in the hundreds and their contributions have kept the Bowlus in tip-top shape. For the last two years Allen County Commissioners have stepped up and allocated $100,000 to keep it in the black. The Bowlus is a line item in the city budget as well. And there’s a Bowlus Commission that does all the “heavy lifting” for school board members by helping the Bowlus director see to its operation.
Thanks to all this support, the school district’s financial responsibility to use the Bowlus is about $40,000, down from about $140,000 — a pittance to its $14.7 million budget.
For the last 50 years school board members have seen that the Bowlus is a part of students’ lives. It would be a shame if their ultimate goal were to end that relationship.
Over the next few weeks a petition is to be circulated asking for a show of support of the Bowlus so that Judge Fairchild has an understanding of public buy-in.
It will have my John Henry.

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