Letter: Careful stewardship needed in school planning
As a taxpayer in Gloucester County I am keenly interested in the process at work ("Gloucester begins looking at long-term school needs," Aug. 11 Gazette-Journal) within the school system’s special committee to determine a course of action in repairing tornado damaged Page School. While there seems to be an opportunity to take advantage of the moment to solve several perceived design failings of the existing local high school and a need for consolidated administrative staff, the price tags for the three or four plans in excess of the approximate and hoped-for insurance settlement for damage to Page vary from an additional $35 million to $55 million. Those millions of dollars will be raised by bonds or other means and will be the responsibility of property owners in the county in times most should agree are disturbingly troubled financially.
Taxpayers need to realize that the current total of the annual budget to operate Gloucester public schools is already in excess of $50 million. 40 percent of that amount comes from the county, with the balance from state and federal sources. It is curiously coincidental but should be alarming to citizens that the county has just announced the hiring of a new, more thorough and proven tax assessor.
I have lived in other places in the U.S. and over the years watched as schools expanded, shrank and closed with the ebb and flow of population and demographic change. While it’s appealing to want the newest and best for the children, it might be better stewardship to focus more on what is happening in the curriculum choices than with the "crowded" halls of a previous era’s misjudgment at one of the school sites.
As for administrative consolidation, why not explore an adaptive reuse of one of the many large and empty commercial sites that dot the landscape from Gloucester Point to the Court House; put the school administration people in a building like the library occupies and sell the scattered properties with "dilapidated" structures that are presently being used—returning that money to the people.
Lastly, as we fashion the rebuilt portions of Page, let’s focus not so much on its part in the desegregation history of the region as recently suggested by a Gazette reader, but more on our need to foster within the students who attend these schools a love of country and free-market capitalism guided by virtue and religious principles, which has served us well in the past and is in such dire need of protection especially in the current national political environment.