Suppose you're a Hamilton County commissioner. And suppose you read in the Times Free Press on Tuesday that the Hamilton County Board of Education may come to you soon to request $10 million in recurring maintenance money. That's $10 million over the $456 million fiscal 2023 budget the school board just voted to send you. You read that they want the extra money so they can "begin" tackling the school system's nearly $1 billion in deferred building repairs.
It's not that the schools don't need the maintenance. They do. And it's not that the school board has had the money before to take on the $891 million chore that we've known had to be tackled since 2020, and even before.
Chairman Tucker McClendon (who recently lost a bid to move up onto the county commission) proposed the $10 million maintenance addition Monday during the same special meeting where board members approved the budget.
"It's time that we stop kicking the can down the road. And if it doesn't pass, it doesn't pass. I can't say I didn't try. But we've got to make progress," McClendon said. "This is a hill I'm willing to die on for these next three months. And anyone that wants to come with me, they're more than welcome. And if you don't, I understand, but it's the right thing to do."
It is indeed the right thing to do.
But other board members — even those who said they agreed with the idea in general — argued against it because, as board member Rhonda Thurman put it, "This is going to be a hard sell. ..."
Board member Karitsa Jones countered: "We've wanted to send budgets asking for money, and we've heard the same speech we heard today from board members telling us, 'No, don't go ask big brother, let's not ask Daddy for more money,' so we end up right back where we are," Jones said. "The children of Hamilton County deserve for us to ask."
Board member Marco Perez agreed, saying, "I believe ... that my role as a board member is to ask for what I believe we need for our students."
Yet in the end, board member Tiffanie Robinson moved to table McClendon's amendment and wait. Her motion was to submit a revised budget to county commissioners at a later date.
Let that sink in: At a later date. What? Daddy's going to be more agreeable later? Later after the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and other county departments all line up before the commission dais with their hands out for still more money, too? Or is the school board waiting to get some new members after the August election? The commission too?
It's not like this is a frivolous request. Nor is school maintenance a made-up need.
MGT Consulting Group in 2019 prepared a preliminary facilities report calling for more than $1.36 billion in capital spending across 74 of our district's schools. The report recommended renovating 11 schools, making additions to 10 schools, constructing new buildings for three schools and closing 15 school buildings.
In 2020, MGT came back with a final audit, and recommended a 10-year plan to fix and add to the district's facilities — this time at a lower cost: $891 million. Imagine what that number would be today, two years later, with building costs skyrocketing.
MGT's final report also found Hamilton County Schools' building use, deferred maintenance costs and the condition of buildings to be "unsustainable." And with little wonder: The researchers found that 30% of the district's schools were in poor or unsatisfactory physical condition.
Board member Joe Wingate argued to board members that making a $10 million-a-year maintenance request to the County Commission doesn't have to mean a tax increase.
"I want to make it clear that just because the school board or the school system makes a request for funding to the County Commission, that's not automatically a burden on the taxpayer. And that is a narrative that I've listened to for six years. That bothers me. Because the county can choose to fund whatever they want to fund however they want to fund it. And does do that every year," Wingate said Monday.
But guess what. These board members all then turned around and voted 8-1 to table McClendon's amendment that would add the $10 million to the schools budget proposal.
Instead they went along with the idea that they may submit a revised budget to the commission later on. Only McClendon stuck to his guns and voted against the budget.
Apparently everyone is afraid of Daddy. And now Daddy has plenty of time to get his "no" cemented.
What they and Daddy need to be afraid of is Mama — when a school collapses onto the heads of our children and lawyers come swarming out of the debris and woodwork.