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Reign of no
SoVaNow.com / September 18, 2013At some point, one is forced to conclude the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors will do whatever is necessary to avoid doing the necessary.
Last week, the supervisors heard — and rejected — a request by Superintendent of Schools James Thornton for $200,000 to fund an engineering study for a new countywide high school. Thornton came before the supervisors under somewhat strained circumstances: he is fighting an (apparent) attempt by a faction on his own School Board to get rid of him, and the Central Office has been (or at least should be) embarrassed by the revelation that desks, chairs and other used equipment have been disposed of and left to rot without a decent effort to recoup a few bucks for the system.
In other words, these are not the salad days of the Thornton regime. Yet through all the ups and downs, regardless of who happens to be in charge of the schools at the particular moment, notwithstanding the hot controversies du jour, one reality is constant: Mecklenburg supervisors will forever drag their feet when it comes to fixing up the county’s disgraceful school facilities.
The supervisors evince a talent for not taking action even when they’ve agreed to take action. Remember when board members approved a modest tax hike to drum up cash for new schools? What should have stood out as a Profile in Courage was diminished by the foolish and counterproductive approach that the supervisors took towards actually spending the money. Instead of leveraging a slack period in the construction business and low interest rates to build schools quickly and relatively cheaply, the supervisors opted to string out major facilities upgrades, one at a time, in keeping with a silly pay-as-you-go mindset. By the time the Central Office gets around to building a new high school (or high schools), the opportunity to pit job-seeking contractors in price competition with each other for the project may well be lost.
This time around, supervisors each seem to have a different reason for not doing as Thornton has asked — though to be fair, the balkiness has much to do with Thornton himself. In this the supervisors may be somewhat justified, given the questions that have arisen regarding recent decisions by the Central Office. Yet the suspicion persists that this Board of Supervisors is afraid to take the lead on a monumental decision for the county’s future — whether to build one consolidated high school, or keep the current arrangement of two schools on separate ends of the county. The latter option has potential advantages, although future budget savings isn’t one of them. What is indisputable is that Mecklenburg’s kids continue to be cheated each year they are forced to attend high school at antiquated, inadequate facilities. The supervisors either need to approve a new high school or renovate the existing ones — do one or the other, but don’t just do nothing..
Kudos to Glenn Barber and Gregg Gordon for being the only members of the board to vote last week to proceed with the engineering study that Thornton requested. They deserve credit for looking past the daily hullabaloo and keeping an eye on the county’s long-term best interests. As for the rest, if supervisors think they can hide behind the troubles of Superintendent Thornton, then Mecklenburg has bigger problems than previously thought.
A reader sent in a Viewpoint letter this week with the request that it be published without a signature, which normally would run afoul of our policy in such matters. But I happen to know the writer in question (if only by reputation) and she presents many excellent arguments that merit discussion. Her topic: how kids are vulnerable to the worst aspects of the social media. Being a parent myself, I can understand her desire to remain anonymous. Being an editor, I think the piece is well worth your time to read. You’ll find it elsewhere on this page. It’s food for thought, that’s for sure ….