Facing up to difficult decisions

Published 2:35 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Charlotte County is facing a large local decision. The school board has identified a current extra expense of $700,000 every year simply to provide for three separate elementary schools. Some options:

1. We can pledge $700,000 per year for future years to continue maintaining three elementary schools as they are now.

2. We can pledge $700,000 each year to staff and maintain three schools and raise extra tax dollars to pay for permanent upgrades and additions.

3. We can build a consolidated elementary school, use our current personnel and pledge the $700,000 annual savings to pay off a loan for new school construction.

4. We can consolidate to one school and use part of the $700,000 to pay off the loan and another part of the savings to provide more opportunities for our students.

$700,000 is 7 cents of the 53 cents per hundred we currently pay in real estate taxes — 13 percent of your present real estate taxes.

The $700,000 in Option 1 limits instructional opportunities. The overage will become more than $700,000 due to inflation and increasing needs. We could face even more costs to maintain these older buildings.

Option 2 is the most expensive, long term, not only having to pay for immediate upgrades, but taking the $700,000 (plus inflation) for three schools, and still having to replace them.

Option 3 provides a new school, but ties up the $700,000 for annual debt payments. Some improvements: Changing from three medium-sized schools to one larger, but still medium-sized, school could provide small class sizes, separate hallways for each age/grade level; better security; age-appropriate playground areas and space for indoor activities in bad weather; teacher- and child-centered management practices; parent involvement over the entire county.

I’ve seen consolidation and saw students, and teachers, grow and bloom in the expanded settings. In these instances, everyone was involved and included in the day-to-day learning and the expanded opportunities.

Option 4: Some of the $700,000 savings goes to foreign language experiences, stronger math-science-technology learning, better pay for bus drivers and staff, attracting the very best teachers, more music and art, field trips and planned experiences. But Option 4 would surely mean a tax increase until the debt is paid.

Can we afford to change? Or remain the same? We can work together today to determine the very best school choices for now and for future generations.

Dr. Nancy Carwile serves as the Cullen/Red House member of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors. Her email address is ncarwile@hotmail.com.