School board should aim to lead – not please 

Published 6:00 am Thursday, June 15, 2017

History is one of our greatest teachers, but it appears that the lesson provided by the Lincoln County Ambulance Board’s need for a major property tax rate hike last year did not quite sink in for the local school board. The tax hike that was needed to keep our county’s ambulance services up and running was the result, for the most part, of ultra-conservative leadership which pleased taxpayers by never increasing the rate, but put the services they need in jeopardy after so many years of taking the compensating rate. 

While rarely anyone enjoys the idea of a tax increase, especially when it’s the result of failed leadership over several years, the school board missed an imperative opportunity last week to pass a recallable nickel tax – the key word being “recallable.” 

That means, if the majority of the public disagrees with it, they can recall the tax through the petition process and let the voters make the decision. So why then did the motion to approve the tax fail for lack of a second? 

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Board members were elected to lead the public, not please it and considering the amount of support for the recallable nickel we heard throughout our reporting, the death of the motion came as a surprise. The letter to the editor from Andrew McGinnis on this page is one example of several supportive comments we have heard and it was pretty clear during the best-attended town hall meetings that the opposition was not related to the nickel tax as much as it was to the notion of consolidating elementary schools. Those are two separate votes. 

It was also made clear by Superintendent Michael Rowe that while the approved facilities committee plan included the consolidation of schools, it is a plan that can later be amended. 

We by no means condone the actions that led the district to the $72 million in unmet facility needs and $3.2 million in bonding potential, but we also don’t condone the decision to repeat those actions and put the district in further financial strain. Revenue generated by the nickel tax is earmarked for specific purposes related only to school facilities and the failure to pass it means the district is walking away from $10.7 million in state match that Rowe said is not expected to be available after this year. 

Those who have walked through each of the school buildings in this district know that there is a stark contrast between several of them. The decision not to ensure the district has the funds needed to not only keep our schools up to state code, but at the very least renovate them in the coming years, is a dereliction of duty by the board. 

We commend Yolanda Smith for making the motion to approve the nickel tax and implore the remaining board members to attend the nickel tax support rally scheduled for next Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. in the old Food Lion parking lot.