There is a pretty big elephant in the classroom, but before we get to that, we want to commend the Public Schools of Robeson County and its Board of Education for their progressive thinking.
The talk of a new technology school has just started, but we like what we are hearing — while recognizing not much has been said yet about that elephant.
On Monday night, the school board heard two architects from a Charlotte firm make a presentation on how they envision the technology school, which would allow for the closing of the Career Center, where more than 400 students are now enrolled.
The new school would be gigantic, with 160,000 square feet, four times as large as a technology school in Burlington that now has 900 students. It would use solar power, geothermal energy and LED light to reduce energy costs.
Most importantly, it would prepare students for emerging occupations by offering such classes as Computer Engineering and Digital Media, Business English, Emergency Medical Technology and Robotics/Programming — cutting-edge stuff.
Such a school could be transformative for this county — although it would take generations for it to fully blossom. It could be a lifeline for Robeson County youths who are not on a path to a university, college or community college for any of a variety of reasons, ranging from economics, to poor grades, to lack of ambition. They could emerge from high school with a skill that would put them to work immediately, or perhaps serve as a pretty sturdy rung on their educational ladder.
It would also make this county more attractive for emerging industries looking to set up where skilled labor is abundant.
Now about that elephant, which is between $40 million and $50 million, the projected cost of construction — or about all the money raised in this county by property taxes in a single year.
Where would this county, which has no choice but to build a jail, find the money for such a building, which would become the first public school constructed here in a quarter century? Perhaps through the sale of bonds, which are supported by property taxes, or maybe through a hike in the local sales tax that would take money off of Interstate 95. If the Golden LEAF Foundation survives, it should be a major contributor.
Steve Martin, a member of the Board of Education, raised that concern on Monday, saying: “If it’s gonna be put on the taxpayers of this county, I’m not supporting it.”
But all should remember that this county, especially property owners, are already paying a big price for every child who doesn’t get educated, and becomes a risk to take from rather than contribute to society. The cost is in taxes that support our criminal justice system and our Department of Social Services, to name a couple, but also the loss of people who will become property owners and share in paying the bill of running this county.
Such a school, either as grand as advertised or a more modest version, would be an investment in our young people in a county that has traditionally given education not much more than a shrug — an approach that has taken us where we are.