Cooper: Facilities report will be the elephant in room

Cooper: Facilities report will be the elephant in room

July 6th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Members of the Hamilton County Board of Education and Hamilton County Commission meet together in January.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

A July 23 joint meeting between the Hamilton County Commission and the Hamilton County Board of Education could bring some clarity to the short-term future of the local school district.

A requested external audit of school facilities, which Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said could offer some — "I'll just say interesting — recommendations," will be the proverbial elephant in the room.

Some commissioners said they could not vote for a 34-cent tax increase in the county budget last month because of what the report might suggest about merging, closing and building schools. The vote for the budget thus failed, and commissioners have until Aug. 31 to pass a new one.

Because of the looming report, it only made sense to wait. Whether a new schools plan based on the report can give commissioners an idea of what spending, revenue and savings will be going forward, or whether it will take many more months to lay out such a plan, will become important.

Unless a targeted revenue increase for the likes of teacher salaries and mandated special education hires is approved, it seems important to wait until a comprehensive schools plan is available before any large tax increase is suggested.

Though the specifics of whatever the report offers will be critical, it's not as if everyone didn't know this day was coming. Two years ago, a Budget Working Group issued a 69-page report that called for a reduction in schools and teachers and said such moves could save the county $15 million to $20 million per year.

It suggested the county would need four years to consolidate and rezone schools. Any savings realized, the group said, "should be dedicated to improving teacher salaries and improving teacher quality."

Nevertheless, the group also suggested "a new tax levy" dedicated to schools infrastructure, technology and innovation.

In addition, 10 years ago, a 2009 report by David Eichenthal from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies considered 19 schools for consolidation, five of which might be closed. Seven of the schools, the report said, were considered for consolidation into three new schools, and the remaining seven were "recommended for no action."

The district, it was suggested, would save $2.5 million.

No moves, based on either report, were made.

We all want the best schools and best school district for our children. However, taxpayers should expect commissioners, school board members, district administrators and the county mayor to seek the most efficient district as well as the best.

We trust the facilities document will be the impetus to establish that efficiency and the proper funding model to go along with it.

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