|2008-04-24 Columns |
|Don't Vote For Latest School Bond-doggle|
|April 24, 2008|
Voting yes for children means voting no on the school bonds. The Guilford County Board of Education has consistently proven that it doesn't handle big wads of money well. It is asking the voters to approve $457 million for school construction, but isn't sure exactly how that money will be spent.
We don't know what passing the bonds will do for education. We do know that if you vote yes, you are voting to raise your property taxes. The current estimate is that the school bonds will raise property taxes by 8 cents.
In addition, the county commissioners will undoubtedly pass two-thirds bonds, which allow them to borrow up to two-thirds of the amount they paid off the year before. So the passage of bond referendums for $457 million would actually allow the commissioners to borrow the initial $457 and an additional $301 million in two-thirds bonds. So the total theoretically could be $758 million, and that will require taxes to be raised for a long time.
The bond proponents talk as if taxes will be raised for the bonds and then lowered. School bonds were passed in 2000 and 2003, but taxes haven't been lowered even though the bon spending has peaked. What happens is taxes get raised because "the people voted for the raise." But then the commissioners don't lower taxes when some of the bonds are paid off; they just spend the money on something else the people didn't vote for.
What we know is that taxes will increase. What we don't know is that any child will learn more or learn faster because they are being taught in an $80 million school. At $80 million for 1,200 students, that's about $67,000 a student, or about $1.7 million a classroom with a class size of 25. That is outrageously excessive and incredibly unfair.
The $457 million is only adding 7,000 seats to the system, which means the school board wants to spend $65,000 a seat. If the school board were really concerned about children going to school in trailers, it would build more classroom space and less fluff. Certainly a seat in a classroom can be built for far less than $65,000. If the bond passes, many students are going to be sitting in seats that cost more than their homes, and almost all the students will be in classrooms that cost more than their homes.
Despite all this spending, as former School Superintendent Terry Grier repeatedly said, Guilford County will always have students in trailers.
What the school board is attempting to do is build a two-tiered system. It has already built three incredibly expensive schools in northern Guilford County. Now it wants to build one in northwest Guilford County that makes those three look cheap. But the vast majority of students in Guilford County, those who don't live in the northern part of the county, are going to be attending what most of us consider regular old schools. I recently walked the halls of Page High School, which I attended from 1969 to 1972. There are a bunch of new buildings, but the old halls and classrooms look the same. And I understand the heating and air-conditioning system doesn't work any better than it did when I was there, which means you have heat in the summer and cool air in the winter.
If the school board were responsible, it wouldn't consider spending $80 million on a new school until all of the old schools had been brought up to some reasonable standard, and then build the new schools to that same standard. But if the school board were responsible it wouldn't consider building an $80 million school under any circumstances, because the school board is supposed to be concerned with educating children, not providing the income for contractors to send their kids to Ivy League schools.
If the bond should pass, for the next 8 to 10 years the school board will spend far more time talking about school construction than education. Supervising a $457 million building project is no easy task, and the school board has no one with experience to do it. The facilities department seems to get cleaned out about every year, and the only one with any departmental history is Joe Hill, who sometimes runs the department as a consultant and sometimes is just a consultant.
Bond proponents talk about how the schools have been neglected for so long that $457 million is needed to catch up. It just isn't true. It is true that after the last of the baby boomers graduated from high school in the early 1980s, there was a time when the student population was dropping and the county didn't build new schools. But starting in 1995, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners pledged 10 percent of its total county budget to build schools; that amounted to about $40 million a year. The county commissioners continued to put that money into building schools until the $200 million school bond passed in 2000. Then the $300 million school bond passed in 2003, which the schools are still spending. But adding all of that up, the taxpayers of Guilford County have put over $700 million in the schools in the past 12 years, and that doesn't count lottery money or other funding from the state. It would seem that $700 million from Guilford County taxpayers should be enough to put the existing schools into good shape and build an adequate supply of new classroom space.
The school board has chosen to spend a lot of money on a few schools. If the $457 in school bonds passes, there is every indication that the school board will continue its pattern of spending the bulk of the funds on a relatively few schools. It should also be remembered that $457 million in bonds translates into a maximum of $758 million in borrowed funds.
If the proponents had some statistics that showed that children in $80 million high schools learned better and faster than students in a mere $30 million high school, they would be touting them.
We do know that outrageous claims are made about the schools that are built, but they have to be to justify the expense. The school board was told at Northern Middle that the hot air would not rise above people's heads. They were also told that students would not get sick as often at Northern Middle because the air around each student was taken away and filtered before it came in contact with another student. The school board members just nodded and talked about what great innovations had been made. Not a single member asked why hot air didn't rise and how the air from around each student was sucked away, filtered and brought back without some huge vacuum system or something like the cone of silence.
If these miracles can be explained, maybe they should be before the public is asked for another $457 million.