Our opinion: Paying the piper
Once upon a time – actually about five years ago – the Warren County School District offered up a Master Facilities Plan that brewed a storm of controversy, which at times appeared very close to a former superintendent’s prediction of a “civil war” in the county.
The controversy was quickly extinguished when a new superintendent arrived on the scene and offered a compromise aimed at assuaging the fears of those who live in the northern and eastern parts of the county. Their high schools would be saved by converting them to K-12 facilities while at the same time mitigating at least some of the long-term costs by closing four elementary schools and using an interest-free bond program to pay for the work. Beaty-Warren Middle School would also receive a major renovation.
The district is now soldiering on with that plan.
Almost forgotten in the anticipation of a remodeled and expanded Eisenhower Middle/High School and an expanded Sheffield Middle/High School is the part of the original MFP that dealt with Warren Area High School. In the plan, WAHS was to receive a “moderate renovation” to take care of deteriorating structural items like windows and “the exterior envelope.” The total estimated cost of the work, which was envisioned for 2013 through 2015, was about $14.3 million.
We have to assume the condition of those windows and exterior panels has not magically improved in the interim.
The Eisenhower and Sheffield work is being accomplished through the interest-free Qualified Zone Academy Bond program. Without that interest forgiveness, the district might not be able to accomplish its goals for those two schools without significant increases in taxes.
However, the QZAB well has run dry, which prompts us to wonder about the status of the once-proposed improvements to WAHS, the county’s largest high school.
If the district goes ahead with the WAHS improvement program as originally envisioned, we can only assume some borrowing at current market rates of interest will be necessary. If the district shelves the program because the cost is now just too dear, does that mean it has been sacrificed for the benefit of two other smaller schools in the district, basically the same complaint Eisenhower supporters posed when their school fell into disrepair?
For years, succeeding school boards, in an effort to eliminate or reduce tax increases, delayed improvements and repairs on a number of schools in the county, especially, it seems, at Eisenhower. The piper has extended his hand, and this school board is saddled with paying him.