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Opinion

Decision time

SoVaNow.com / January 10, 2018
In our annual Fearless Forecast of the Future that graced (?) last week’s Sun, I opened with a prediction for where the county would build its new high school-middle school complex — “halfway between the Town of Boydton and Route 4, just north of the dam.”

Close enough?

This week, the Board of Supervisors secured purchase options for a 175-acre tract across from the intersection of Route 4 and U.S. Route 58, six miles east of Boydton (indeed, just up the road from the dam). The supes evidently have settled the question in their own minds about where the new consolidated school should go, and all in all, their decision is a solid one — as good a choice as probably can be made in terms of balancing competing and somewhat balky geographical interests in Mecklenburg County. The definition of compromise is a deal where no one walks away entirely happy. That’s true here unless maybe you’re ED-6 school trustee Rob Campbell.

Folks may remember it was Campbell who made the motion in the decisive vote one year ago this month by the School Board to build the new school — a motion that passed by the narrowest of margins, 5-4. It marked the first time supervisors and trustees had aligned on a plan for replacing the county’s woeful high schools and middle schools. Ever since then, the construction of a new school complex has never really seemed in doubt. Yet the longer the actual site selection drags on, the greater the chances the whole thing could somehow fall apart.

It might still happen, of course. A 5-4 majority is not exactly made of solid steel. The School Board meets next week, and one would think the proposed school site would be Agenda Item no. 1 for the trustees. Or not. The Board of Supervisors can purchase land, but ultimately it’s the School Board that has to decide where (and whether) to build a new school. Getting the two boards on the same page has been an ongoing challenge.

Yet as we witnessed in January 2017, the Board of Supervisors has one great power of persuasion — control of the purse strings. Trustees make education policy, supervisors set education budgets. And consider, too, the stipulation that Campbell attached to his vote when the majority of trustees got on board with the supervisors’ bottom-line demand for a single school: that the consolidated complex be located somewhere between Boydton and South Hill, a.k.a. in Campbell’s Election District 6. It’s hard to see how this arrangement unravels now.

I understand why lots of people would be happy neither with the process nor the outcome that leads to a single, sprawling school complex for all students in grades six-12 in the county. The Town of South Hill and eastern-end communities are having to give up their nearby high school and middle school; west-end Mecklenburg families will be sending their kids off each day to a school located well beyond the geographical center of the county. For many students and families, the transition with the extended bus rides and big-school vibe is inevitably going to be fraught with complications. These are genuine downsides.

But consider the upsides: Mecklenburg will be getting a school complex it can be proud of (not even thinkable with the existing Bluestone and Park View buildings). Modern facilities will open avenues for the teaching of a modern education. Students can avail themselves of much-improved career and technical education offerings and a high-end academic curriculum for those continuing onto college, while Mecklenburg County at large gets a showcase for economic development and perhaps even a platform for a more cohesive and cooperative community in the future. Set against these benefits, the complaints pale in comparison.

Would it be be preferable for students to attend two (or four) smaller schools, endowed with all the features of a modern consolidated facility, rather than be herded into a behemoth east of Boydton? It would be easy to make that argument. It also would be about 25 years too late. A policy of benign neglect has guided local education for generations, and the idea that the Board of Supervisors and School Board would turn around that legacy with an ultra-expensive, multi-building footprint spread all over the county was always fanciful at best. We should be happy to see any progress, period, after going three or four decades with kids fighting their way through deficient high school and middle school buildings. Hold out for the whole loaf at this point, and don’t be surprised to receive none at all.

And with a resolution of Mecklenburg County’s biggest shortcoming now in sight, the fact we’ve gotten this far is a testament to the leadership of members of the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, county staff and school administration who have worked long and hard to make it so. There’s nothing wrong with believing the consolidated site is a suboptimal choice, or that Mecklenburg County could do better by spending $150 million instead of $100 million to build more than one school building. But at this point there is something wrong in attempting to relitigate settled issues. Mecklenburg County is on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation leap forward, and we can only hope a majority of the School Board joins that leap when the matter of the proposed school site comes before trustees.

***

Last week, a letter writer to The Sun’s Viewpoint column made a number of easily disprovable claims about the Republican tax bill that recently passed Congress and was signed into law by President Trump. The claims were so easily disprovable, in fact, that the author went about disproving a few himself: “Every one that pays federal tax will get a tax break. EVERYONE,” wrote David Douglas of Clarksville, followed by the next sentence that read, “The rich will pay more because their deductions are now limited.” You don’t have to have a PhD in logic to realize both of these statements can’t be true at once. But let’s be real here: the misinformation surrounding the GOP tax law is a feature, not a bug, and the propaganda flows from the top down. Players at early level of conservative politics have sought to build support for the tax bill by serving up a slew of distortions, historical fairy tales and outright lies about what the legislation does and says, with Donald Trump merely having the longest reach via his Twitter account.

The tax bill, alas, is yesterday’s news. What about the GOP’s slavish insistence on treating everything Trump says and does as the gospel truth? This week saw the release of Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury,” and having read a few excerpts, it’s no surprise Wolff’s story has set Washington and world capitals ablaze. To say “Fire and Fury” is an unflattering portrait of the president and his administration is to insult the entire concept of flattery, but the book also gives fresh impetus to the truths we know — that Donald Trump is a narcissistic, insecure, sleazy and basically a mentally deficient man who has no business being President of the United States. That such a thing ever came to pass is a mark on our nation’s history that won’t soon fade away.

On the facing page, Richard H. Allan III of Axton has written an open letter to 5th District Rep. Tom Garrett asking our congressman if he will act impartially and independently to get at the truth of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian interests to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. For the record, I don’t believe Russian interference was the reason Donald Trump won, although his victory was so razor-thin one can plausibly argue that any nudge could have put him over the top. Wherever the truth may lie on that particular subject, the larger point is that Russian efforts to subvert our democracy are unacceptable, and if Donald Trump actively conspired with Vladimir Putin or those close to him during the campaign, he committed a clearly impeachable offense. There was once a time when the nation’s leaders — Republicans supposedly foremost among them — would have treated known ties between a political candidate and a foreign adversary as completely intolerable. Will they do so now?

The jury remains out on exactly what Donald Trump and his coterie knew and when they knew it, and whether their subsequent actions violated the law. We shall see. But if collusion or obstruction of justice is discovered by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the exposure of crimes will mean nothing if members of Congress are unwilling to set aside their personal or partisan political interests to protect the country’s best interests. So Mr. Allan’s letter comes at an opportune time, when Tom Garrett should be letting us know his thoughts on the matter.

Exactly how low will Trump’s supporters go to justify his presidency? Where is their floor, and does one exist?





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