Tuesday, June 22, 2021

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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School board ingrates

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As if it wasn’t bad enough that the school board majority wanted to ignore parents’ wishes [see separate editorial in this edition], a similar majority wanted to castigate the board of commissioners for its action implementing the issuance of bonds to pay for the referendums passed by voters for ABSS and ACC in 2018.

This is a real turnaround since that election when school officials and school board members pronounced themselves so pleased, so grateful to the people, so thankful to the commissioners who had placed the referendum questions on the ballot in the first place.

But this week, all that magnanimity was long gone and forgotten.

Instead, some school board members fumed that the commissioners actually stuck with the multi-million dollar amounts that voters approved.

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Patsy Simpson was the most obdurate and, quite frankly, obnoxious during this week’s school board meeting, but she seemed to have the sympathy of most other board members during her harangue against the commissioners. Some other comments suggested they agreed with her. They surely didn’t stop her during her extended rant Tuesday – as they have many times in years past.

Bond financing is a complicated process, we acknowledge, and it may be difficult for readers, taxpayers, and even school board members to understand, but the underlying principle is pretty straightforward.

The voters approved $150 million in bonds for the school system and another $39.6 million for the community college. By overwhelming majorities, in both cases.

So now it’s time to issue the bonds to pay for the construction promised by the bond referendums.

However, interest rates have fallen since 2018.

So, the fundamental question faced by the commissioners, when they dealt with this decision earlier this month, was who should benefit from that advantageous turn of events: the school system or the taxpayers.

Should the taxpayers pay the same (higher) amount that everyone expected them to have to pay over 20 years in 2018 when the bonds passed?

Or should the taxpayers’ cumulative burden be lightened (some) by issuing the bonds at the level anticipated, which at this point would mean the tax burden might be eased off a little over that same 20-year period?

The commissioners decided to favor the taxpayers, not school bureaucrats and the school board that ostensibly oversees them.

School board members could have gotten a windfall of $20 million or more in additional spending if commissioners had kept the payoff levels for the bonds at the same levels.

So, in an apparent snit, the school board this week claims it needs $9.6 million more for other school construction “needs.”

Now, here’s where taxpayers – and probably the commissioners – will roll in the aisles on the way to ignoring part of the school board’s requests.

The newest $9.6 million in supposed “needs” includes all sorts of fancy-dancy additions for the new high school, the price tag for which was already set, at $67 million, as a part of the $150 million bond referendum.

So now, all of a sudden, the school system thinks the students at this future school need more than $3.4 million (a 5 percent hike in costs) in additional upgrades: $1.4 million worth of lighted tennis courts, lighted soccer fields, and other lighted athletic fields, plus a heretofore never envisioned vocational building (almost $1.3 million), more student parking (a mere additional $104,855), plus about $2.7 million in all sort of other upgrades.

Only by the definition of this school board can these items be considered real “needs.”

What a joke!

Even Simpson, who otherwise railed at the commissioners, couldn’t bring herself to sign onto this list of superfluous requests.

Even more incomprehensible is the claim that these new items are so imperative when the school system is literally rolling in more than $100 million in new, ostensibly covid-related funds from Washington and Raleigh.

Surprisingly and with deep disappointment, we note that new member Sandy Ellington-Graves, who promised when she ran in 2018 to be more conscientious, actually voted for these ridiculous add-ons.

We’ve lamented before that some school board members make themselves such a laughingstock.

And they never seem to find a limit to the extent to which they will go to demonstrate it.

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