deja vu?

Does anyone else feel like they are caught in an ugly deja vu ? As many people know, the debate regarding funding to build a new Jefferson Elementary School on the site of the Jefferson County Fair Grounds has been raging for several months and still there is no movement to common ground. At the core, the County Commission is simply divided on just how much the county can afford to put into a new building program. But, there are other contributing factors that keep compromise at bay. Agree or not, some commissioners and just ordinary, tax paying folks cannot wrap their heads around the rotating numbers and there really have been a bevy of numbers floating around. If the information is too convoluted it appears to be inaccurate at best. The location of the proposed school has put off some because it leaves the Jefferson County Fair without a home and whether or not it means anything to you or me it certainly means something to the thousands of people that attend or participate in the fair every year. Is that the school board’s responsibility? Well, yes and no. Education, like everything else in the county, is funded by tax dollars and those that attend and participate in the fair are, largely, tax payers. In fact, as an agricultural county many are some of the larger land owners and there are a group of students that attend Jefferson County Schools that participate in events. If this was the only location to build and building is necessary then the first responsibility of the school board is to the safety of the students. Hands down that is their first responsibility and no one should expect anything other than that as a priority. However, I am not sure that the commission is convinced that building has more merit than renovating Jefferson Elementary School.

And then there is the burning question- If you have a school that is such disrepair that it is unmanageable through regular maintenance and you have a $15 million dollar grant that can be used for renovations, why are the funds not already directed to a renovation project that would bring the building up to speed? Yes, the building is 60 years old but we live in a historic area and there are other schools in the county that are 60 years old and have been renovated over the years. To totally dismiss the possibility of renovation seems short sighted. If the idea is vetted and it simply cannot work for some reason then a building program is on the horizon. Lastly, there is the fact that enrollment is down in Jefferson County. Jefferson Elementary School is not overcrowded and that has always been the yardstick for a building program in Jefferson County. Renovations have worked before and it is apparent that some commissioners are wondering why it won’t work now.

But, and this is a big but, the decision to build or renovate does not belong to the county commission. It is the school board’s job to determine if a building program is warranted or if a renovation will answer the needs. The county commission is a funding body and they are charged with delegating the tax payer’s money to meet the various needs in Jefferson County. They don’t get to decide to build or renovate but they absolutely do get to decide how funds are appropriated and they are charged with doing so in a fiscally responsible way. Be it funding the Jefferson County Park ( nursing home), roads, police, emergency services or schools, the literal buck stops with the county commission. It is a big task with big responsibilities. Regardless of the frustrations, no board, committee or individual should forget that commissioners are charged with managing the debt that will last decades and the decision to incur that debt should not be taken lightly.

Believe it or not, I don’t believe that the school board and commission are that far apart on the Jefferson Elementary issue. I have not heard one commissioner state that they believe that Jefferson Elementary School is not in need of attention of some sort, be it renovation or building program. This issue needs a little time to breathe and a little space for the angst to settle down. No more three minute poundings on commissioners- no more name calling and clapping in meetings- no more following commissioners to their car to berate them for their vote. Simply let it rest and let cooler minds prevail. In the end, I am certain that something will happen to relieve the issues at Jefferson Elementary School. Pushing the point with revisiting the same motion over and over is only pushing buttons and making it more difficult to find common ground and take care of the Little Elks.

Maybe, if we all take a step back we can find a path that answers everyone’s needs, even if it doesn’t answer everyone’s wants. You know, compromise like we learned to in kindergarten.

Source: K. Depew, News Director