David Reynolds: Charting a future

Column by David Reynolds
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Could this be the start of something big? Are we beginning to speak with one voice? Have the members of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors finally found an issue where they can lead – not just follow – their constituents? Can we keep our own neighborhood pride while still considering the needs of other neighborhoods?

If the answer to such questions is in the affirmative, maybe we need to say “Thank you.” Five times. (I know that it is rare for this space to contain compliments, but it is Lent and a resolution was made.)

From what we read in the press last week we owe the county’s Board of Supervisors a vote of gratitude. Politicians too often test the prevailing winds before uttering a single syllable. Not this time. Our county supervisors, with solid backgrounds in education, business and farming, may be up to something good, as well as something big. They may have laid the groundwork not only for the county to move on, but to keep its children from moving out.

Two weeks ago we said that we had become too self-serving. We were in the process of losing paradise. “Me” was the in-word spoken by too many parents who knew better. They put their feelings of today before their children’s interests in tomorrow.

Sure we know that our motto “We have always done it that way,” adds to our local charm. But there are times when a little change is not only good for one’s soul, but to bring a community together. This is one of those times.

We would love to see Rockbridge Middle School and Effinger Elementary School remain open. And we would also love to see every 18-wheeler off I-81. But until we can come up with a better way to effectively educate our kids and a more efficient way of moving finished goods to market, consolidated schools will be built and trucks will continue to roll.

Now we can think the unthinkable. Consolidation is not a bad word after all. Neither is charter. There is an opportunity to channel support for the Effinger Charter School. ECS can be a magnet in attracting children from the entire Rockbridge area. Charters persuade parents to select them instead of assignments made by school districts. A supportive new governor and his Department of Education are standing by to assist in the process. And guess who the General Assembly said this past session who must approve new charter schools? The local school board!

There is no need to take a pedological class to learn that it is teachers who teach, not bricks and mortar. No need be a financial advisor to know that when an investment is not paying dividends, you cut your losses. We did that. Successfully. Natural Bridge High School was renovated, then closed.

Public school funding issues should never be about how much money we have allocated to spend. It should be about how wisely we spend.

The county supervisors – and a school superintendent who has provided us with the hard facts – wish for us to look down the long road. They see now is the time to prepare for the future. In doing so, they are saving us from those who know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. The number crunchers can only cloud our two real choices: learning programs for kids or maintaining staff and buildings. They claim that if we can just get our hands on a quarter of a million bucks, plus a thousand more, there will be no need to change, no need to improve. A curious argument.

Other arguments are equally outlandish. Do away with standardized testing. Don’t teach to the SOLs. At least no one suggested sliding down the slippery slope of grade inflation. That has already been done. Credit our colleges and universities.

Our area’s elementary and secondary public schools are in the same fiscal fix as those in the rest of Virginia and the nation. The City of Staunton will be closing one of its four elementary schools. Detroit will close a quarter of its schools. Kansas City, Missouri will be closing almost half. Are these school districts responding to scarcity in the wrong way?

Another question: If a nation suffers its greatest economic downturn in 70 years why should one part of the economy, the one-third public sector, not share in the downturn, while the private sector is paying the full price? There is no good or fair reason.

Or maybe you believe that our schools should be exempt from competition. If so, please tell that to the parents whose children: (a) transfer to another school district; (b) are home schooled; (c) attend private schools; or (d) attend public charter schools.

Before this year’s cuts, state spending for education rose 60 percent over the past decade. Isn’t it time our kids received more benefits for all these dollars?

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