Oct. 20 2010 12:00 AM

This is a sidebar to Gretchen Cochran's Story 'What makes a great teacher?'

Ask teachers how important the condition of their building is and they’ll say, “A good teacher can teach anywhere.” But dig a little deeper and the responses become more reflective.

Educators say that, most of all, a dilapidated school building sends a message to the staff and to the students about the community’s priorities.

Voters living within the Lansing School District will make that determination as they cast ballots through Nov. 2 by voting on a site sinking fund tax proposal. The five-year property tax is expected to yield about $4.18 million per year for construction or repair of school buildings. For a $100,000 home, the 1.5 mill levy would cost about $75 per year.

“It’s not the bricks and mortar that make the teacher,” said Sally Hudgins, who recently retired from Pattengill Middle School and was a Michigan Social Studies Teacher of the Year. At one point in her 31-year career, she arrived to teach but the building was not ready. She was informed her classroom would be in a nearby church sanctuary.

“You know what? It didn’t matter,” the 55-year-old said, so long as she had the space, the right tools, the right supplies and the support of parents and administrators.

But she was quick to add that the district’s millage is badly needed, particularly to free funds for technology to enhance instruction.

Pattengill Principal Kirk Sulzman concurred. There’s a point when a building’s condition sends a message, he said.

Yes, teachers can teach anywhere. But to get them, and to keep them, teachers should be given a workplace where students can learn. Pest control, adequate lighting and heat costs money, he said.

Families also have options today on where they send their children, or school of choice.

Parents in mid-Michigan can choose where to send their children to school, so long as there are vacancies. The most common question parents who are school-shopping ask Sulzman is this one:  “Is it safe here?”

The money from the new fund will be earmarked for sites, buildings and their maintenance. That will allow portions of the school budget being used for maintenance to be freed up for education programs, Sulzman said.