Solutions and Stumbling Blocks
School construction seems to be the hot button issue in Frederick County. As I’ve noted before, we’ve been dealing with school funding issues for well over 20 years.
The sad thing is, we’ve done the same thing that doesn’t work over and over again, and we somehow try to convince ourselves, we’re not insane for expecting a different outcome?
You can reference, as I did, a Frederick News-Post article from August 2000 that stated impact fees were increased back then by 300%. This, according to the county manager at the time, also with then Board of County Commissioners member Jan Gardner, who stated that building 1200 homes per year with these newly increase impact fees of 300%, would adequately service our bond debt. Bond debt is how we fund our schools.
They were as wrong then as they are today.
Fast forward 16 years. In a recent email exchange with now County Executive Jan Gardner, she still wants to use the same methodology of blaming developers for all the school funding woes. Her email stated: “It seems that there is more concern about over burdening developers than concern about our students going to school in seriously overcrowded schools.”
This was in response to Council Member Jerry Donald’s email that stated: “I hope that the 8th wealthiest county in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world doesn't decide to have students eat lunch in the hallway because we don't want to over burden developers. That would be pathetic. I hope the Council sees this in the same way I do.”
Well, Councilman Donald and County Executive Gardner, I don’t see it the same way you do, and to act as though students eating lunch in a hallway is somehow going to become reality based on developer greed, is just simply absurd. I see developers as having been part of the solution, and blaming them does nothing to fix the problem.
Let me state the solutions that are coming forth, neither of which Council Member Donald or County Executive Gardner initiated. But first let me say that the reason these alternative proposals came about was because Ms. Gardner and Council President Bud Otis were adamant about once again going down the road of insanity by requesting that impact fees be raised yet again on new housing.
The same tired model that’s been used for over 20 years, and failed. It’s simple economics to see that when you tax something more, you get less of it, in this case, you will yield less revenue for schools by taxing homes more. The developers on the other hand along with the Frederick County Building Industry Association came up with a plan to take on the bond debt for one school so the school could be built sooner. We need two elementary schools now, and several more in the out years of 2017 and beyond.
Council Member Tony Chmelik and I met with the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry Alban, and we mentioned putting a task force together to have the school system lease schools from private entities, a true public, private partnership.
One thing I said to Dr. Alban that I think resonated with her was that during the recent snow storm I asked her how she spent her time? She said she was busy coordinating efforts to see when schools could be open. I replied that if she leased the schools from a private entity, she could make a simple phone call and state what day she wanted the schools open, and if they were not open, the entity would pay a penalty, pre-determined within their contract. This way she can concentrate on what she does best, educating students and not worrying about snow removal.
I mentioned also that it’s her job to produce students that enter college, vocational school, the military or the workforce that are educated and prepared for this highly competitive world we live in. We all agree on that.
I have a plan to fund the third elementary school with private funds. I have a developer who will procure the site work and the building along with a funding source that will fund 100% of the construction and lease the finished product back to the county over a 30-year lease.
Council Member Chmelik and I will be putting together a task force to work with the state, county and the Board of Education, to make this a reality. More details to come as we move closer to procuring this over the next 6-12 months.
In my mind we can think outside the box with ideas like this, or we can use the county executive’s method of the blame game, placing politics over progress. As I told her recently in an email, you can lead, follow or get out of the way.
In any case, these schools will get built with you on the field as part of a team, or watching from the sidelines. Our children can’t wait any longer for solutions and I have no plan to pass this burden on to future elected officials. We’re going to solve the problem with a long term solution, once and for all.