The recent concern for the Public Schools of Robeson County that has been demonstrated by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners would be welcome, if only it were genuine.
It is an elephant-in-the-room question: Why have Chairman Raymond Cummings, Roger Oxendine, Belester Campbell and Jerry Stephens been so adamant in “helping” the schools find a cheap solution to their central office problem? Why, when the schools said thanks, but no thanks, didn’t the commissioners just collectively throw up their hands and spoken as one, saying, “We tried, it’s your problem now, so good luck?”
The commissioners, especially Stephens and Oxendine, spent a good part of Monday’s meeting attacking the local school board. As usual, their information was either incomplete or a blatant lie.
Stephens wanted to know what was up with the new school, intimating no traction existed, and wondering why was the system so concerned with a central office. In fact work is progressing on a new school, but a lot of work is required, including determining where best to build it.
Oxendine pointed out that the commissioners pushed for a school consolidation plan in 2016. But the school board, which didn’t embrace it, didn’t kill that plan; it died in Raleigh, which Oxendine knows. And although we supported the plan, it was for the greater good, and with a realization that a lot of folks locally would profit mightily, and probably some commissioners. And yes, Mr. Oxendine, it is yours and fellow commissioners’ fault that children sat shivering in schools across this county recently because of failing climate systems. Leadership isn’t blaming others for your failings.
The evidence of the commissioners’ indifference toward the local schools is easy to show: Out of 100 counties in North Carolina, Robeson ranks 99th in per-pupil spending, $525 for each student. It’s not the fault of commissioners that this county is poor and land values are low, but it is their fault when they pay themselves richly, spend $6 million or more for a boondoggle, and show themselves incapable of ingenuity.
How about this? Ask county residents to approve a special education tax of 4 cents for every 100 dollars of property, which would raise $2 million that could be used to bump supplements and attract better teachers. Residents might say no, but properly packaged in a stand-alone referendum — the yearly cost to the owner of a $100,000 home would be less than a meal for two at Outback — it might succeed and a commitment to education demonstrated. Other school systems have nice things because taxpayers are willing to pay for them.
Instead, we are saddled with one of the worst school systems in North Carolina, with 27 out of 42 schools considered low-performing, embarrassingly poor test scores, old schools that are literally falling apart, the ignominy of arguably the worst school out of more than 2,600 in the state, and the low morale that all of that produces.
Chairman Cummings, Vice Chairman Campbell, Mr. Oxendine and Mr. Stephens, the way to support the local school system is not to overpay by millions for a building that could be foreclosed on and purchased cheaply, and then try to force its use as a central office. The way to support the local school system is to honor the pleas of the school board and administrators and to work with them.
In this instance, that would be endorsing what the school board has planned, which is to build a central office on N.C. 711 using insurance money and money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that will not be at a cost of $28 million or $30 million, another lie you guys keep repeating. An office to accommodate about 80 people that does not require an atrium could be built at a fraction of that cost — and probably without a penny from the county.
That done, the county would suddenly find itself with $6 million that is unobligated. Maybe a check could be written to the Public Schools of Robeson County that could be used to benefit more than 23,000 students who expect more from you than your lies, your condescension and your desire to serve yourselves, and not the people of this county.