By Scott Robertson
Put yourself in the shoes of a Washington County Commission member. You have the authority and the responsibility to pay for the building of a new K-8 school in Boones Creek. What you do not have is the authority or responsibility to pick the land on which that school will sit, or to negotiate the price. You simply cut the check, or refuse to.
It’s the Board of Education’s job to pick and negotiate both the purchase price of a site and the cost of building of the school itself. So you as a county commissioner spend more than a year evaluating the existing Boones Creek Elementary and Middle Schools until only the most budget-hawkish among you doubts the need for a new school. You stand ready to vote for the expenditure involved, even knowing it means a property tax hike.
As you stand at that precipice, ready to make the tough decisions and do the right thing, the Board of Education, which has, for the last four years, supposedly made the new Boones Creek school its top capital priority, suddenly and inexplicably fails to pick a site. You and your 24 commission colleagues are left, having lobbied each other and your constituents regarding the need to support the new school, with nothing specific to support.
The detail about this sad saga that leaves commissioners shaking their heads is that the decision the school board faced between two sites appears to have been staggeringly easy – along the lines of, “Whom would you prefer to watch your children for an afternoon, Mary Poppins or the lady who let her child wander into the gorilla cage at the Cincinnati Zoo?”
On the one hand, you have a property owner who has reportedly agreed to sell the county the land for around $33,000 an acre. On the other, you have a group of five separate land-owners, some of whom have not signed anything guaranteeing a price, and the others of whom want more than $100,000 an acre. Were you responsible for being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money, which of those would you be more likely to choose?
But you see, therein lies the rub. The school board is not responsible for being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. The county commission is the funding body. So the school board split four-to-four (with one absent), adjourning its last meeting without having chosen either site.
And so it came to pass that Monday night, when the commission met to decide whether to tell its budget committee to move forward with the creation of a spending plan for the new school, the motion had to include the words, “contingent upon site acceptance.”
County commissioners were forced to vote whether to support, in essence, the idea of a new school and the process of funding it, with precious few details. Most don’t even support the school board’s building plan.
Rather than declaring what it wants in the new school and putting those details out for competitive bid, the school board has said it wants a $30 million school. What do you think the odds are that the architects and builders will come back and say, “We can build you a great school for less.”?
When commissioners cast their votes Monday night, 19 of the 24 (with one absent) voted in favor of telling the budget committee they would support increasing property taxes 14 cents to build the new school. They’re to be congratulated for not letting four school board members force the county’s students to spend another year in a substandard school.