12/16/07 — A first step: School system, county get down to business, at last

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A first step: School system, county get down to business, at last

At long last, the Wayne County commissioners and board of education seem to be on the right path — and truly on the hunt for a solution to the continuing question of what to do about school facilities.

After a series of meetings to share ideas and to open lines of communication — gatherings facilitated by some of the community’s most influential business leaders — a proposal has been posted by the county and is now being considered by the school system.

But that is not the most important achievement of Friday’s landmark break in the cold war that has been the school facilities debate.

After 10 years of name-calling and no progress, both boards are starting to see the issue from each other’s point of view — and seem to be determined, finally, to get the job done.

Ignore for the moment the length of time it has taken to get here — and set aside the obvious skepticism that accompanies any announcement that a consensus has been reached.

The point is, the issue is finally off dead center.

Both groups have significant expertise to offer to this process — and seem to be willing to set aside preconceived notions to listen to one another. They seem to get that they are both on the same page, that they are charged with a monumentally important task — building a school system that is able to offer a quality education for each and every child in Wayne County — and that they can’t do it without each other.

Each has valid points — and plenty of reason not to believe that the other is sincere about putting an end to the stalemate and getting the job done. And don’t think either is going to ignore its responsibilities just to reach an agreement. They will both continue to fight for what they think is right.

But, for now at least, doubt seems to have been set aside.

New school board chairwoman Thelma Smith and county commission chairman Bud Gray seem to be determined to keep the communication open, honest and productive — and their constituents need to hold them to that promise.

There is no more time for the bickering and delays that used to be the hallmark of budget discussions. It is time to get down to business.

In the meantime, we, as a community, need to think about what we want for our children, our schools and our county. We need to understand that improvements have to be paid for and that money alone will not eliminate every challenge facing Wayne County’s schools and our children.

We have to get, once and for all, that we are as important to the future of this county’s schools as the dollars we provide. We need to be involved, and to push others to be active in the schools, too.

But to make all this happen, we have to acknowledge the real reasons for success and failure, face the problems head on and take a hard look at the adage “you get what you pay for.”

More than a few people have said that Wayne County will not support a school bond issue. Perhaps the real statement should be that taxpayers don’t want to fund any measure that is not buttressed by a plan of action and goals for measuring achievement.

The newfound cooperation from both groups is a step in the right direction.

But just as they aren’t ready to join hands and sing just yet, this community will be watching to make sure the first blush of cooperation does not become another decade of inaction.

There is just too much at stake.

Published in Editorials on December 16, 2007 12:00 AM