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As leaders in Missoula’s business community, we thank the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees for placing two school construction bonds on the fall ballot. We offer our full support. These funding measures will bring our school facilities up to contemporary standards.

More than 8,800 children are enrolled in Missoula County’s public schools. Passing the two school bonds during the November election will directly benefit them. Maintaining high-quality public schools is also vital to Missoula’s economy, and benefits all of us.

Most employers need a well-educated and skilled workforce. Educated and skilled workers reduce training costs, maintain safer workplaces and, most importantly, foster increased productivity.

A skilled workforce attracts new businesses. The Missoula Economic Partnership recently reported that Missoula is becoming a hub for big data and innovative cybersecurity. Businesses like LMG Security, TeraDact Solutions and GCS have opened their doors here. At the Missoula Industrial Park and at the former Stimson site in Bonner, skilled workers are needed to staff production lines for emerging new industries.

High-quality public schools attract professionals. Before they decide to relocate to Missoula, many of these professionals ask, “What are the schools like? Can my kids get a good education here?”

Building and retaining an educated and skilled workforce begins with high-quality public schools. But our local public schools are threatened. Many existing school buildings are already so crowded that some instruction occurs inside closets. Moreover, the average age of our county school buildings is 57 years. Several of them were built more than 100 years ago. All of them are in dire need of repair and rehabilitation. Even though the Internet now forms the backbone of both learning and commerce, most of our public schools lack high-speed Internet. Unless we fix these shortcomings, we stand to lose the high-quality workforce Missoula has enjoyed for decades.

The two school construction bond measures on the November ballot consist of $88 million for our elementary and middle schools and $70 million for high schools. The bonds will generate funds to pay for improvements in every one of our 17 schools – improvements that were vetted and prioritized in a two-year public process spearheaded by Missoula County Public Schools, parents, teachers and students.

Funds from these bond issues will pay for roofs that are in disrepair and boilers that have not been replaced since the schools were built. They will pay for Internet access that will connect our students to the world around them – for homework, standardized tests and instruction. With much needed repair and replacement of buildings, the school district will save on energy costs, provide adequate room for students and create appropriate learning environments for students. With these improvements, our students will excel in the workplace or in their continuing education.

What will happen without these bonds? If we can’t offer high quality schools for our children, educated professionals will select other communities. If the quality of our workforce is poor, new businesses will pass us by. If our primary employers suffer, support businesses close their doors.

Come October, Missoula’s voters should watch their mailboxes for ballots for the November election. To the question of passing both our school bonds voters should give a resounding "yes." They should opt to invest in our kids, our community and our future. Voters should return those ballots to the Elections Office in higher numbers than ever before. It’s the responsible thing to do – for everyone.

Mary Windecker is a vice president at Community Medical Center and incoming chair of the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce. Nick Kaufman is a principal/owner and vice president at WGM Group and current chair of the Chamber.

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