Talk is Cheap, Facilities are Not

If we are to accept the word of the Board member from District 4 at last week’s meeting of the Fairfield County School Board – and there is really no reason we should not – the future of the Fairfield County Career and Technology Center has been the topic of discussion by District leadership for at least the last eight years. According to one former recent interim superintendent, at least once during the last 20 years the Board has voted to approve the design of a new facility; although, the plans to do so were apparently caught in the suction of the revolving door used so often by the Board to usher superintendents out of the District.

Last week, the word from the bond attorney was clear – if you want it, you can have it; but you’re going to have to let the voters in on the process. Any plan for a new career center will likely include a tax increase of some significance, and while the Board could undertake such a venture without approval of the voters, a referendum would be more politically wise.

So, what is the price tag and how much of a tax increase? Scenarios vary. Last winter, the price tag was around $14 million, which would send the District’s millage rate to 20 mils. But it is unrealistic to imagine any worthwhile facility could be constructed for so little money, particularly when one factors in the necessary upgrade to the equipment such a facility would require in order to successfully serve its students. It is, after all, a career and technology center, and technology changes rapidly. The revised cost has since risen to $25 million, which, according to the bond attorney, would up the District’s millage share to 16 mils. V.C. Summer dollars could provide some relief, but not until 2019.

While it is too late for any such referendum to appear on this year’s ballot, voters can be assured that in a November in the not too distant future they will be put to the question. Between now and then taxpayers in Fairfield County will have time to do some serious soul searching and ask themselves how important education really is to them.

The poor, almost embarrassing condition of the current facility cannot be adequately described without lapsing into hyperbole, and for a school district awash in so much money that condition is a shame. The building itself is pushing 45 years old, and that it is still standing at all is a testament to the District’s Maintenance Department. Students at the facility, meanwhile, regularly outperform their peers within the District on academic assessments, making the Career Center, year after year, the most consistently successful school in the District. And what do they get in return for their hard work and success? Instead of a facility that should be the showpiece of the District, they are left to toil within a virtual eyesore.

At last – and once more – the talk is heading in the right direction; and this talk is not cheap. It is, in fact, potentially very expensive. A referendum on the matter is really the only way to handle such an expense, and we trust the District will go that route. We also trust the voters – and, more importantly, the taxpaying voters – will see the value of such an investment.

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