Our Voice: Franklin County Commissioners' critism of school board shows poor judgement in

February 3, 2013 

That Franklin County Commissioners have apparently suddenly become experts in school administration is an interesting development.

The commissioners gave their support to the Pasco School District's $46.8 million bond proposal with a recent resolution. Despite the unanimous vote, it wasn't much of an endorsement.

The three commissioners took the opportunity to direct several barbs at the district, which were incongruous to their support of the bond.

The resolution criticized the district for its handling of the bond and its desire for fees from residential construction to help offset the cost of serving additional students.

Adding further insult, the commissioners requested a "thorough independent, unbiased study of multi-track options in the district" and an independent review of the costs and plans for school construction.

In short, it sounds like the commissioners would give the district a failing grade. So why endorse the bond while simultaneously trying to undermine it? They acknowledge that education is important, but if that's their reasoning they ought to act like they mean it.

As most would imagine, the Pasco School Board did not appreciate the commissioners' critique.

The resolution "clearly reflects the commission's lack of interest in gaining factual information prior to making decisions," said board President Sherry Lancon.

She said the district provided all information requested by the commissioners and that "information provided refutes many points in the resolution."

"The resolution draws assumptions that are biased, misleading and not based in fact, and we are deeply disappointed," Lancon said.

That's hardly the kind of response we'd expect from a school board president whose bond proposal for two new elementary schools and an early learning center just received a significant endorsement.

But the commissioners handled the situation so poorly that the school board could hardly react otherwise.

Commissioners took the bond proposal as an opportunity to further their own agenda, in particular the commission's opposition to the collection of impact fees from new residential construction in the district.

The city of Pasco currently imposes those impact fees, which the county commissioners said are "unjust, ineffective and negatively impact the economic well-being of our local home buyers, construction workers, their families and small businesses."

But the commissioners chose an irresponsible way to make the point. If the backhanded endorsement helps defeat the bond measure, the district's children will suffer. All but two schools in the district are over capacity. The district uses 191 portable classrooms to accommodate the overload. There isn't room for many more.

The new schools are needed to ease the overcrowding brought by rapid growth in the district and to avoid unpopular alternatives like year-round schools with students on different schedules or doubleshifting, school officials said. The cost to taxpayers would be 34 cents per $1,000 in assessed value. That's $34 a year for a $100,000 home.

County commissioners seemed to endorse the efficiencies of year-round multi-track schools, and said the district was misleading the public to skew its perception of that option. The commissioners went so far as to call for school administrator salaries to be frozen, since commissioners have imposed that on themselves.

Another jab from the commissioners said that private schools were better operators than public ones. The "academic results and fiscal efficiency of our community's privately funded schools consistently exceeds that of our publicly funded local schools," the resolution stated.

How's that for a feel-good moment for Pasco teachers? Besides, the comparison is invalid. We'd like to see how the private schools would do if they were required to educate all the district's children, whether there is room for them or not.

Franklin County commissioners hardly are in a position to criticize fiscal responsibility, with a former employee recently admitting to stealing at least $2.8 million from the county through a scheme that ran unchecked for decades.

Commissioners missed an opportunity to put a stop to the theft years ago. It took the diligence of a county official running a basic audit of vendors to uncover the mess. Accusations of mismanagement might not be something the commissioners should be so freely aiming at other entities.

If the commissioners truly had such significant issues with the district, how could they in good conscience support the bond? The mixed message hardly is a sign of great leadership.

It's fine for the commissioners to raise questions if they have valid concerns, but to do so as part of a bond endorsement is confusing to the voters and cowardly of our elected officials.

Either they support an issue or they don't.

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