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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can district justify list?

Wednesday's Rock Hill Herald contained an editorial (copied below) questioning some of the recent bond items.  Let me say the Rock Hill Schools have been blessed with good coverage from The Herald. The paper has been very supportive over the years and often asks the questions that need to be asked. 

A former school board chair once made the statement, you shouldn't go to battle with someone who buys ink by the barrel - and that is not my intent - I'm not sure what the overall editorial intent was, but I'll tell you what my take-aways are:

  • The district should never be spending money on frills - whether good times or bad. Every purchase involving tax dollars should be on a needs basis, not a wants.
  • The District needs to do a much better job explaining items and what we do. A parent spoke to the board on Monday night about several issues which need clarification. No longer is it acceptable to operate "out of sight and out of mind".
Those are my take-aways. Probably not what you would get from the article. But let me explain.

A school district operates on limited maintenance funds. Once you get behind, you will never catch up and eventually your schools will decline. Our district is well maintained. Our old schools get small upgrades which keep them up to date and attractive. If we didn't work on this a little each year the learning environment would suffer. 

Let me address the project issues mentioned in the editorial (which were also addressed during Monday's meeting):
  • The project at Sullivan (Xeriscape) involves removing grass between the buildings (in the courtyard areas) and replacing with a type of zero maintenance material. Presently, lawn mowers must be brought through the school to get to the courtyards - which means there is a clean up issue inside the school every time the grass gets cut. Now, this is not a new problem, but there are new eyes looking at the problem. The solution was to reduce maintenance cost and make the area more attractive. This is not a frilly landscaping project.
  • Northwestern is getting some new lockers, not a new locker room. Unfortunately, lockers wear out and need to be replaced.
  • Old Pointe requested a fence as a boundary with some new businesses in the area. This will improve security and the environment at the school.
  • 480 ipods. This is a tough one for me, because I think this is technology which we cannot keep up with. But, this was presented as a trial in all our secondary schools - as a tool to see what our teachers can come up with to improve learning. I'm sure the same argument was made for the first computers and even calculators - and often I'm not  a visionary when it comes to what the potential can be. I can tell you this, 3 months ago I thought an ipod was just an mp3 player, but since receiving one as a gift, I know they are graphing calculators, internet browsers, cameras - if there is an app for it, it can do it. We already supply calculators for some math classes, why wouldn't we trial a device which can do so much more?
Admittedly, one persons wants is another persons needs. I hope these will always be tough calls. But I hope we will always have school leaders who push the district to be on the cutting edge. Something, I believe, is what folks recognize when they nationally  name Rock Hill as being child and family friendly.


Can district justify list?

Even without a tax increase, school district must justify items on list of projects.

In principle, the $5 million approved Monday by the Rock Hill school board for technology upgrades, construction and maintenance makes good sense. But in these difficult economic times, we hope school district officials have carefully examined every item and project on the list to see if they are absolutely necessary.
The district originally thought that borrowing $5 million would entail a tax increase of about 1 percent. But board members were told Monday that the district could avoid a tax increase by postponing projects and strategically restructuring its debt.
State law allows school systems to borrow up to $25.66 million a year without having to go to voters for approval. To borrow more than that, the district would have to hold a bond referendum.
Under the law, that money can't be spent on salaries or other operating costs. It must be used only for building and technology projects.
Board Chairman Bob Norwood noted that the district routinely borrows around $5 million every year to perform routine maintenance on buildings in the district and upgrade technology.
"People don't realize we've been doing this for 34 years," Norwood said Monday. "We pay off some debt and we take a step forward."
This year, of course, every penny the district borrows or spends is under scrutiny. With teachers and other district employees losing jobs and being forced to take furloughs without pay, borrowing money to pay for frills would be unacceptable.
We trust that district officials and school board members have carefully reviewed the list of technology upgrades and construction projects proposed by Superintendent Lynn Moody. Nonetheless, some raise a red flag.
Does Sullivan Middle School need its grounds landscaped? Does the Northwestern High School junior varsity need a new locker room? Does Old Pointe Elementary School need a fence? Why exactly do our middle and high school students need 480 new iPods?
School district officials and board members can be certain residents are asking those and other questions.
Routine maintenance, timely building projects and technology upgrades can be both practical and cost effective in the long run. And we appreciate that the district has found a way to borrow the money without increasing taxes.
Again, though, in tough times, the district might have to work harder to justify everything on this list than in years past.

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