Dr. George Parker, new Superintendent of Caroline County Public Schools addressed the Board of Supervisors last night, requesting 2.1 million dollars in budget increases. Mr. Parker requested a 16% increase in administrative funds and an 8% increase in what is essentially money for the class rooms.
Caroline County, already in debt, has been asked to consider significant tax increases on property owners in order to fund the Superintendent’s proposed budget, something none of the Supervisors seemed remotely interested in entertaining. This is the kind of unity we don’t often see from a Board of Supervisors and one which we should all be grateful to witness on our behalf. While tax increases (monies taken now) are almost always preferable to debt (monies taken later with interest), in this current economy, few property owners can afford the increase.
Therefore, the real question should be, how do we improve our schools efficacy and efficiency with the money we already have? This is a difficult question and one that can only be answered by a close and transparent relationship between our School Board and our Board of Supervisors. From accounts by both boards, the joint session between these two boards earlier this month was highly productive. I hope to continue seeing a productive and open working relationship, because that’s what’s required to manufacture any real progress.
In our Caroline County Residents Facebook Page, several residents were voicing considerable concern with regard to the quality of Caroline County schools and I have to wonder if throwing more money at the problem, without a quality action plan in place, is really the smartest route to take.
While it is important to be able to hire and maintain quality teachers and administrators, money is not a cure all.
I understand that while Caroline Residents who do not own property in the county are likely less concerned about tax increases on those of us who are, as a property owner in the county myself, I am concerned. That said, a quality school system is necessary if we want to grow our residential and business prospects, so some reasonable balance ought to be struck between the Board of Education and the Board of Supervisors, but 2.1 million dollars is simply excessive, especially since we’ve gotten such poor results from the money we’ve already spent.
The best way to fund our schools (without tax increases or debt) is to grow our business base. This means bringing in retail businesses like Walmart, and last night we saw the progress on Walmart stalled. I’ve seen mixed opinions with regard to Walmart in Caroline, but folks must understand that a Walmart never comes alone. With Walmart comes dozens of other stores that want to establish themselves in new high traffic areas, an environment that Walmart inevitably creates. These businesses will employ hundreds of local Caroline residents.
Furthermore, we need to dispense with the myth that WalMart hurts local business. Let’s be honest – in Caroline County… what local business?
Port Royal has attracted new antique stores to Caroline, which is fantastic and WalMart is not in the antique business. In Bowling Green we’re seeing more fresh coffee and pastries, not something with which a Walmart would even compete. A Walmart in Caroline County would mean that folks could purchase their clothes, health and beauty, sporting goods, and electronics in Caroline County, keeping that money local, instead of wasting it in Richmond or Fredericksburg where we get no tax value whatsoever.
I know our schools are looking for more funding and I understand they are hurting for quality teachers and administrators, but our School Boards’ long history of fiscal irresponsibility does not warrant a great deal of trust on the behalf of tax payers. Dr. Parker appears to be much more motivated, more responsible, and more transparent than previous superintendents and so I do not wish to discourage his efforts at solving many of our schools problems. Unfortunately, the problems are likely not merely monetary. Some housecleaning and best practices might be in order.
At the end of the day, Caroline County needs to focus on creating new revenue – not on spending revenue we don’t have; and so while I hope that we can find new money for our schools, it should not come at the cost of new taxes or more debt.