School board compromise too costly for supes

Although it wasn’t on the agenda, the school facilities issue was obviously on some minds on Monday night as the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors gathered for its December meeting.
Laurie Wright, a property owner in Blackridge, appeared before the group during the public comments session and renewed the call two continue with a two-school system for secondary schools in the county.
Wright pointed to research that shows children do better in smaller schools, especially minority and at-risk students. Those students, she said, could be negatively impacted by a single, large consolidated school complex.
“How can you say consolidation will be better when research says not?” she asked.
Wright pointed out that research shows that having a school in a community increases property values and helps attract professionals. She said having two high schools is a plus for the county.
Wright also told the supervisors that South Hill provides a large portion of the revenue in Mecklenburg County.
“If you insist on closing Park View high and middle schools, there will be a decline in property values, revenue, taxes,” she said, adding that a consolidated school will have a negative impact on the entire county.
Wright also questioned the figures being used for the cost of schools and pointed out that many localities had built schools for much less money.
Finally, Wright asked the supervisors, “Do you really have your constituents’ best interest at heart?”
During the supervisors comments session following the meeting, Supervisor David Brankley expressed disappointment that the school facilities improvement project is not moving ahead.
“I saw the compromise the school board offered, and I didn’t see much of a compromise,” said Brankley, who added that he hopes Supervisor Claudia Lundy, chair of the Joint Educational Committee of county and school leaders, would call a meeting of the group soon.
Lundy replied that since there had been no resolution to the differences between the school board and board of supervisors, she hopes to call a meeting in January.
While the supervisors have resolved that $100 million in funding would be appropriated only for a consolidated, centrally located secondary school complex, the school board responded by requesting that the same amount, $100 million, could be utilized to build a new Bluestone high/middle school campus for the western end of the county and a new Park View High School at its current location while renovating the current Park View High School into a middle school.
On Facebook on Sunday, school board member Brent Richey shared construction costs data from recently completed projects from the Virginia Department of Education.
“You can view completed projects that are similar in scope to what we intend to build,” he wrote, giving examples of a school built for 779 students for $25 million and a school with a capacity of 1,354 built for $49 million.
Richey wrote of the school board majority’s desire to continue with two secondary schools in the county, “If you take a few minutes to pick through those projects recently completed in Virginia, you will see that according to the state data, the request is reasonable.”
In the meantime, Lundy said, “I think we need to move forward with upgrading the elementary schools.”
Lundy pointed out that discussions on an energy performance contract are once more underway. “It’s going to happen sooner or later,” said Lundy. “We don’t need a band-aid, we need a finished job.”
Supervisor Dan Tanner also expressed regret that the school facilities project has not proceeded. He added that nothing will get done on the project until both sides sit down, find compromises and move ahead. He added that if the two groups can’t come to agreement, the matter should be settled in a public referendum.
Supervisor Gregg Gordon also said that he hopes both sides can come to terms. He added that he felt the recent compromise offered by the school board was too much compromise for what would be given up.
“The only compromise to renovate Park View will be the compromise of giving up a state-of-the-art facility to meet the needs of the student for the next 50 years with one designed for education a half a century ago,” he said. “It will be a compromise of splitting resources. It’s a compromise in the quality by trying to maintain separate but equal facilities. It will be a compromise of salary increases due to duplicate salaries and operating costs. It will be a compromise of our fiduciary responsibility to the citizens.
“I don’t believe the recommendation from the school board is viable or affordable. I’m willing to meet and talk, but I think what this board has decided is that these compromises are too costly for us.”
Chairman Glenn Barbour said he hopes the Joint Education Committee can come up with a plan because the “unforeseen circumstances” cannot continue. He said he felt maintaining the status quo is “unacceptable” and hopes to find a way to proceed.
“(Supervisor) Jim Jennings has said on several occasions that after all these years we’re on the doorstep of doing something,” Barbour said. “For us to now abandon that process would be a travesty for our county, an absolute tragedy.”