Citizens I need your help. At a recent City Council meeting concerning the school budget, the children of our schools discussed the presence of mold in the ceiling of our schools, water leaks, the lack of heat and air conditioning, gas leaks at Hammond necessitating multiple evacuations and the rats that inhabit our schools all of which lends credence to what we already knew — we are in crisis mode. Our schools are unhealthy, unfit for occupancy. This whole issue of total neglect of school maintenance and an insensitive governing body who sat on their hands and kicked this down the road in lieu of other pet projects even though we knew in 2009 and 2010 (6.2 percent increase in enrollment in 2009, 2.8 percent increases in 2010) that there was trouble ahead, the school population was advancing. A governing body that never rendered a project on time and on budget — who thought tennis lights were more important than schools.
I present to you the culprit: The School Board, “less newly elected members.” We have all owned up that there is a crisis at hand. We must commit to fixing the problem but based upon what has happened in the recent past Patrick Henry and Jefferson Houston, I believe there is a better plan to move forward.
Councilman Paul Smedberg has suggested a blue ribbon panel of experts to monitor the school repairs, Councilman Timothy Lovain has introduced the idea of a czar, an expert to tackle the problem, while Councilman Justin Wilson advocated the revenue route — increasing the tax increase that City Manager Mark Jinks proposed by more than 100 percent, so the citizens will bear the brunt of this project. Mr Jinks wants to raise the debt service by 20 percent which would wreak havoc with our financial ratios and jeopardize our AAA bond rating.
I suggest another alternative — a private partnership. It is obvious that our School Board, facilities and planning staff are in over their heads. They are simply unable to deal with the school structural issues. We pay big salaries to these planning and facility heads but get very little in return. The underlying principle behind PPP’s is that while the private sector needs to be responsible for the delivery of a particular service such as a school it does not have to be responsible for providing a particular service (construction) or undertaking the investment — it can be shared. In this way all members of the PPP do what they do best: We educate, they build and finance.
With three new schools to build and five more to renovate, the idea of shared risk makes enormous sense. With an estimated $611 million to repair and rebuild the schools I believe it is absurd to finance projects on the backs of the citizenry. There is no monetary ROI here. It’s a school, it’s an infrastructure project, treat it as such. Utilizing the private sector, we can build for less, we can contract with the private sector to maintain the schools and you can be assured there will be no Taj Mahals, no cost overruns, no lack of transparency, just brick and block, a slate roof, a routine maintenance schedule, they will last a lifetime.