02/20/07 — First tasks first: Facilities primary goal now; policy can come later

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First tasks first: Facilities primary goal now; policy can come later

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for when you take a stand — and that is exactly what might happen to Commissioner Jack Best after his statements during Monday’s meeting of the Facilities Master Plan Team.

Best is right. Focusing on buildings is not all officials need to do to improve the quality of education in county schools. But he is wrong that now is the time to talk about it.

Right now, the question is what to do about a facilities problem that has stretched from months to nearly 10 years of waiting. There are buildings that need repair and plans to be made for future construction — and the costs of getting the job done go up every day. That is what the commissioners are tasked with now — and that is what the focus of these discussions should be.

The commissioners are required to provide the necessary funding for school facilities. They are not charged with determining education policy. That is the school board and school district’s job. And if they aren’t doing that job to the public’s satisfaction, new leadership needs to be brought in — everyone agrees on that.

Best’s comments during the meeting drew some reaction from Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor, who promised that the district would provide additional funding requests to improve programs and to get the best personnel in the schools.

And he should.

Talking about improving schools is one thing. It is easy to rant and rave about how students are not prepared to enter the world and to point fingers at those tasked with accomplishing that feat.

It is a different beast to try to figure out how to fix that problem. And, believe it or not, money is a factor in providing quality education — although not the only one. The best teachers, like the best employees, really do go where they are rewarded. They have families to support, too. And programs to help children who aren’t performing well require resources and personnel.

Providing more funding might be a decision we need to make as a community in the future.

In the meantime, we can plan a real discussion about what it will take to improve our schools. There are many factors to consider, and some issues we might not want to talk about, but this is a give-and-take that could make a real difference not just for our children, but for our community as well.

So, Best is right to suggest the need for talk. And Taylor is right to insist that the discussion be one of reason and facts, not emotion and what the public wants to hear. Both should be prepared to provide specific questions and facts and to listen as well as talk.

It won’t solve the problem, but it will be a first step.

Published in Editorials on February 20, 2007 11:24 AM