I attended the recent hearing held by the Mason County Board of Education concerning the assessment of an additional and recallable “nickel” tax. I heard comments from those present that included some common sense pleas from teachers in the district to some legitimate concerns from taxpayers who have to bear the brunt of this increase. I spoke, not at length, but I did speak and I was clear, I support the much needed extra revenue sought by the district. Having taught in the district for 28 years, having a wife currently teaching and strongly considering retirement due to proposed changes to her retirement system, and having had a daughter who excelled and graduated from the district, I understand the needs of the district. However, I have severe reservations on the proposed uses of the new capital money as presented last night.
One comment just kinda stuck in my craw. The Superintendent made an offhand comment that when visitors came to the district, he only could take them to the just renovated STEAM Facility or to MCIS, the newest school in the district. What does that statement say about the multitude of other classrooms in the district that students go to everyday, that in most instances, educators have spent their own money and unpaid time to equip, stock, and keep functioning?
Trust me, I think that is deplorable that we have buildings that leak, do not heat or cool properly and no longer have the electrical capacity to teach 21st century skills. One of the speakers at the hearing asked why the devil things were allowed to reach this point. Good question. Having taught in Career and Technical Education for 28 years, it is pathetic what teachers at the ATC are using to prepare students in a 50-plus year old building with equipment just as old. This list in the district as evidenced by last night’s presentation goes on and on….
The reality of the situation is the current political climate has continued to see a steady erosion of much need funding to support basic public education. This is despite overwhelming evidence that states that have supported public education and CTE training are well positioned to compete for much needed jobs now and in the future. This reality forces schools like everyone else to prioritize and make hard decisions. There is a big difference between needs and wants.
The Mason County ATC is over 50 years old and is slated to receive close to $5 million in renovations. This building has been in bad shape for many years. Why then does a district spend $4 million dollars to renovate an already old factory building for “STEAM” Education and ignore a previous facility plan that called for retrofitting the Middle School for “technology” that could have included the curriculum being taught at ATC and STEAM Academy?
Parts of Mason County High School are older than 50 years and built at a time that did not plan for the technology needs of today’s educational environment. The litany of renovations and the money spent on parts of that building add up very quickly from the past 15 years. Now we are getting ready to put an additional $5 million into already old building.
Also, at no time during last night’s hearing did I hear projections for student population numbers for the next five-10-15 years. Those numbers should drive facility needs. I did not hear anything resembling what this district’s long range plans and priorities are in dealing with these already old facilities. I did not hear anything on how this board plans on replacing these already old facilities. I did not hear anything on how we are going to recruit and pay qualified teachers to replace current teachers as they retire or leave. I did not hear how we plan to continue to compensate an already valuable staff and keep them. I could go on! What I did not hear was anything resembling a long term plan or long range priorities.
I mentioned need versus wants, something we all must do with our budgets. Our students and teachers need functional, well-maintained facilities that are staffed by qualified and well compensated professionals and staff. Some might want fancy high-tech buildings, astro-turf, outdoor basketball courts, etc. Those things don’t teach or feed kids or drive buses.
The Mason County Board of Education has a unique opportunity at this critical junction. They need to reassess what the needs of this district should be beyond the next five years and articulate that vision if they expect community support for this much needed revenue. Continuing to put money into 50-plus year old buildings and factories does not make too much sense to me. My dad said it best: “Lipstick on a pig!”