Over the next few weeks/months, there will be much discussion about the possibility of reducing the number of attendance centers in the West Carroll School District. Tied to that discussion will be emotionalism and school pride, something most people who attended high school feel when thinking back to their own high school days.
It is important that the emotion and pride be removed when considering what is best for West Carroll. And it is West Carroll, not Savanna, or Mount Carroll, or Thomson, a truth all need to remember.
"It is about the kids" is a frequent refrain, and while certainly true, it is also about a healthy and safe learning environment, as well as financial responsibility to the taxpayers of the school district. Should the district borrow money, in the millions of dollars, to repair/ renovate an aging building that every indication says will not be needed?
There are some who believe that increased employment at the Thomson Federal Prison will result in a great influx of students. To date, employment of over 400 personnel at the prison has not brought increased enrollment, but rather enrollment continues to decline, from the 2005 enrollment of 1,500 to today's 932.
If the prison were to hire 200 more employees, who believes all 200 would live in the West Carroll District? Optimistically, maybe 50, all of whom will not have children, so perhaps 40 would have one or two children, all of whom would not be in the same class or classroom. Should the district borrow millions of dollars?
How would the district borrow money? Keeping in mind that the district still has just over nine million dollars of bonded indebtedness to be paid off in 2028, should additional bonds be issued? Those bonds would be repaid through a property tax increase to the taxpayers of a district that already has the highest tax rate in the county. Will that encourage people to move here? Or not?
Could the district transfer money from the Education Fund or Working Cash to the Operation and Maintenance Fund? Yes, but not enough, with repayment to the donating funds within three years, eliminating a rainy day fund (think new roof or boiler in case of emergency) and any potential pay increase for staff during next year's contract negotiations. Is this really a viable idea?
Could the district do nothing and wait for the hoped for increased enrollment? Maybe, but in the meanwhile, asbestos caulk continues to fall from windows, windows that neither open or close as designed, some of which are taped shut, and broken floor tiles that scatter asbestos debris. Is this safe for students and staff? Perhaps the real question is what do we value more, a building or the people who occupy that building daily?
While the closure of the high school attendance center in Savanna is painful for many to contemplate, it is important that the decision to do what is right, not that which is easiest, for students, staff, and taxpayers, be the standard used going forward.
WC School Board member