Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer hit the nail on the head in his inauguration speech last week, when he said, “As go Laconia schools, so goes Laconia.”
Some people might have left it there, but Hosmer went further, adding important context about why it’s vital that Laconia have strong schools.
“School systems with great reputations increase property values and increase new housing options. Families with school-age children prioritize schools first, then housing.”
If the biggest obstacle facing Laconia is an aging population and dearth of young families — issues bedeviling not only the Lakes Region as a whole but all of Northern New England — then schools are the key to getting around that obstacle.
Laconia doesn’t have bad schools by any means, but the district faces challenges largely not of its own making: too many children whose parents fight the demons of addiction, mental illness and the pressure that comes from having too much month left after bills are paid and the money runs out.
Laconia is not the only school district fighting those issues, but that is probably little consolation to those working hard to teach children who may not always have learning on their minds when they leave home for school in the morning.
There are no silver bullets when it comes to upgrading a school district — it strikes us as a process not unlike refurbishing a battleship — but Hosmer deserves credit for tying Laconia’s future to the performance of its schools.
The mayor also did something else that was important when he recognized that many of the tools needed to bring about positive change are already here. He cited teachers, firefighters, police officers, public works employees, the airport, Lakes Region Community College, and the business community.
That’s an impressive list of assets, to which we would add one more group — taxpayers.
One of Hosmer’s challenges will be forging a partnership with those in the city who may be skeptical about the need to upgrade schools. Hosmer’s approach may challenge the conventional wisdom that long opposed development of housing that would increase the school population. Sure, education costs money, but erosion of a city’s middle class may cost even more when it results in a higher-than-average population of students who require costly special education services.
If the mayor’s job is to win over skeptics as he makes the case for why schools need to be upgraded, the job of taxpayers is to keep an open mind as he makes that case.
Fortunately, one doesn’t have to look far to see examples of Hosmer’s point that great schools increase property values and promote housing development. Developers know that, if they build houses in Gilford and Meredith and other communities with well-regarded school systems, families will snap them up — even if they’re not on the water.
That could happen in Laconia, too.