To the point week of 7/19/07

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AS A BOY I ALWAYS KNEW that four-letter words could get you in trouble; but last week I found out that three-letter words can sometimes sting, too.

The word “not” isn’t a very big word, but when it’s left out of a critical place in an important story – it really seems gigantic.

For those of you who (a) didn’t see it; (b) saw it but didn’t call to point it out; or (c) saw it and took great pleasure in pointing it out – an article in last week’s newspaper had that little word make a big change – and lots of laughs.

In the story on the back page of the newspaper that gave the qualifications for candidates for the school board seat that is now vacant with the resignation of Wilma Swango; the final qualification should read:

“The person has not been convicted of a felony”.

That’s “has NOT” been convicted.

But that’s not what I wrote.

As it appeared last week:

“The person has been convicted of a felony.”

That’s quite a difference.

It’s just a three-letter word, but it comes in a very important place in the story. Obviously it should have been there, but it wasn’t – and many of you saw it, caught it, and commented on it.

Much to your glee and my embarrassment.

For the record: convicted felons are not qualified to sit on the school board.

What the story does tell us is that there is a very important position open on a very important board at a very important time.

The person who fills that spot will be thrown into what is probably the most tumultuous time in school history. With criminal and civil investigations continuing and what is sure to be a lengthy legal process as the school attempts to recover more than $1 million in embezzled funds, the new school board member will have to land on his or her feet and be prepared to get as much information as they can as quickly as possible.

But we also all can’t forget that through all of this there is a school year to get started next month, which will see students back in the classroom in less than four weeks.

There is staff to hire and policies to adopt and planning to be done. There are schedules to finalize and new administrators to get accustomed to their new jobs and much much more.

And there may very well be a new school to be built.

Now before someone goes out and organizes a lynch mob, everyone should know that the possibility of a new school actually has very little to do with the embezzlement.

What?

You heard me.

Stop and think about this: the school board proceeded with plans to build a new Jefferson-Craig based on several factors, one of which was cash balance that the school has on account.

That figure hasn’t changed. It should be larger than it is, but the figure that the board was looking at was accurate.

If a $3 million cash balance made the board feel confident to build a school before the embezzlement was discovered, then why should that change, now? If anything, once this is all sorted out, there will be an even greater cash balance.

Point #2: Right now the debt service on the school buildings that we are still paying for is being paid not by your property taxes, but by the Switzerland County School Endowment Corporation.

Each year the endowment has paid that portion of the school’s taxes, which has saved you money each and everytime you pay your property taxes.

Building a new school will make that debt service figure higher, but if the endowment is paying it, anyway – then it doesn’t affect you on your bottom line.

The endowment also has been working to put back some money to offset the cost of the school IF it is built, much like the county council did to pay for the jail and courthouse expansion.

A new school can’t be built overnight, so let’s say it takes three years to build the school and put kids in it.

If the endowment and the school corporation focuses on preparing for that building now, by the time it’s finished, the county could almost have it paid for.

It worked for the jail, and it can work here, too.

The county council, which pulled back 10-percent of the revenue sharing funds across the board last year, may also be persuaded to reinstate those funds to the endowment corporation and earmark them toward paying for the new school.

That’s up to them, obviously, but it would be worth the discussion.

Here’s where the nay sayers spout the “Boat could leave at any moment” theory. Those are the same people who spout the “Boat will be here forever” theory when it suits their purpose.

Belterra is a good partner here in Switzerland County, and I expect that they will continue to be well into the future.

The land is already bought and paid for, so that’s less money right now.

Regardless of personal feelings and criminal activities, when we look at what’s best for our children and grandchildren, at some point we’re going to have to build a new school to replace Jefferson-Craig. At some point the high school will have to be looked at, too, but that’s down the line.

Nothing lasts forever, right?

Which brings me back to our new school board member. That’s why it’s so very important that the person appointed be positive and a visionary and be focused on doing what’s right for the education of our children.

Yes, many vital decisions lie ahead, but with the right person joining an already tremendous group of board members, we as a community can move forward with the education of our young people, and provide them with the skills that they need to have a successful life.

And no one can steal that from them.