12/10/05 — Schools are waiting: Eventually some decisions on facilities must be made

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Schools are waiting: Eventually some decisions on facilities must be made

The Wayne County Commission and the Board of Education are moving forward a bit on a plan to come up with a solution to the county’s school building needs without strapping too much of a burden on the county’s budget.

The problem is, the process is moving slower than a tortoise with a sore toe.

Now, after more than a few months of negotiations and debate and years of hand-wringing, the commission has proposed yet another look at building needs vs. the budget.

This time, they want to pay a consultant $120,000 to tell them what is necessary and what isn’t when it comes to building repairs, construction and other expenses related to school facilities. The consultant would also give recommendations regarding how much the county can afford to spend on building needs.

The projected finish time for this latest round of study is June or July. And that is just the study, not the ensuing debate or any planning that needs to be done for implementation of the recommendations.

And in case you are counting, that means it will be time to talk about the 2007 budget before the 2006 budget is finalized.

While the county commissioners approved the decision to hire the consultant, whose fee they say has already been accounted for in this year’s budget, there was some concern that perhaps there might be a need to speed up the process.

One of those voices belonged to Commissioner Jack Best, who cautioned the board to be prepared to listen to the evidence, address the needs of the schools and the county’s students and to push for a resolution of the issue.

To continue to discuss a problem without any reasonable intention of coming up with a resolution is simply a waste of a consultant’s fee, he advised.

And he is absolutely correct.

The members of the county Board of Education are right to be concerned about yet another delay. Six to seven more months of talking is not going to fix the problems that already exist or prevent new concerns from appearing in already dilapidated structures.

More talking also will not eliminate the need for someone to address the elephant in the room — how much all of this is going to cost and where the money is going to come from — either.

Dealing with the conditions in this county’s schools is a front-burner issue. Spending $120,000 on a consultant is fine if both the school board and commissioners are serious about a definite decision when the information has been collected.

This is a chance for both boards to show their community that they are willing to address the tough issues and to make real decisions when the answer might not be exactly what the community wants to hear. That is what leadership requires.

And then it will be up to taxpayers to decide where they want their money spent and how much more they are willing to pay to fix the problems in their schools.

But it is definitely time for someone to decide.

Published in Editorials on December 10, 2005 11:52 PM