Our School System’s “Taj Mahal” Palace
Commissioner Billy Shreve has clear blue eyes, constantly darting about, looking for answers to unposed questions. At a board meeting Tuesday, according to the local paper’s story, he commented: “Maybe it’s better to sell this at a loss and move somewhere else.”
Immediately the president of Board of County Commissioners Blaine Young expanded on Mr. Shreve’s observation: “You got to think outside the box, this would make nice hotel conference center. It’s a first-class site,” according to Frederick News Post reporter Blair Ames. In other words, founder of the local Tea Party Young proposed spending more millions, in addition to the $16.7 million already forked out for the “Taj Mahal” by taxpayers – including me.
It never made much sense, this moving out of the former headquarters building to a location at the “new” entrance to the City of Frederick. I know that Frederick County Public Schools were scattered over the county, but accessible to the former superintendent’s office, on East Church Street.
It made eminent sense to educators who lobbied hard at Winchester Hall. They found the readiest ear attached to ex-Commissioner Jan Gardner, who preceded Blaine Young. On the day of transition, the new president said: “It’s a new day with a new attitude, new culture. Business as usual is over. Compassion for the taxpayer will be at the forefront of this new way of business.”
In the past two years the county really came to understand what Mr. Young was talking about. He and three commissioners elected with him have cut Head Start, diminished contributions to non-profits and eliminated jobs. Veteran Commissioner David Gray provides the generally dissenting voice to the all-Republican board – for which he’s been attacked in clumsy humor. Sometimes the comments are less than funny.
At the Tuesday meeting, Mr. Shreve hung about as it was gaveled closed, assuring lingerers that Mr. Young was perfectly clear, which means the headquarters would be pulled down and millions more spent for the budding hotel and conference center. At one full-swoop, the savings over these past 22 months that the present board has brought about will be wiped out; the cost in dislocation, feelings and individual lives remains.
Still at Tuesday’s joint meeting, as reporter Ames wrote, the school board’s totalitarian attitude toward the public was revealed. As expressed in his story, the members and Superintendent Theresa Alban were more concerned by the fact that Commissioner Shreve talked to the staff. The possibility of disposing of the “Taj Mahal” seemed to matter not at all. They were concerned about the revelation of the school board’s “guidelines” that restrict the Frederick Board of County Commissioners’ liaison to contact the superintendent and Board of Education president.
“I think that defining this now is limiting our First Amendment rights,” Mr. Shreve is quoted. “You’re (the school board) saying I can listen to the meeting, but I can’t comment.”
This struck me – as the commissioner observed – as Bushwa: the apt Louisiana word that can be used in “polite” society. The schools do not collect taxes, but the Board of County Commissioners does. The Board of Education pretty much exists at the superintendent’s favor; this was worse in history. Only a few years ago the school board members were politically appointed; at least now they are elected.
Selling Frederick’s “Taj Mahal” may not really be an option, but the current speculation displays things about the Frederick County Public Schools that I object to, as a journalist and taxpayer in all gradations: local, county, state and federal.