LETTER: Wicker school project is a mistake

To the Editor,

I take issue with the premise of your Feb. 7 editorial, “Partisanship doesn’t belong in education.”

My words about education were not partisan, though they certainly espoused conservatism – a principled form of behavior involving good fiscal sense and sound judgment.

I believe the W.B. Wicker campus is a terrible idea for an elementary school. The site is in the heart of a persistently high crime area. Putting an elementary school there is not going to reduce crime in that area. Instead, it will virtually guarantee the need for stepped up patrolling, active countermeasures, and passive crime control activities costing millions of dollars over a 20-year period.

At $28 million and climbing, the cost for this school will be 50-100 percent higher than the cost for a more typical elementary school in Lee County. We could build a nice new elementary school on the old Jonesboro Campus – on land the school system already owned – for around $15-$18 million and have even better access to major road networks.

As a county commissioner during 2010-14, I argued for a new elementary school bond referendum alongside the community college bonds. The school board and superintendent argued against such a referendum. Because they failed to secure that bond, taxpayers will now have to pay millions more in debt for the school using Certificates of Participation, or other limited obligation debt. That is fiscally irresponsible.

The school system is asking to build a new school but they still have not analyzed the geographic locations of school-aged children in the county to determine where a new school best satisfies the need. Such a study should always be performed before deciding where to locate a school. This means the citizens of our county still do not know which children will be forced to attend the Wicker school.

I have yet to meet a Lee County family expressing a strong desire to send their most precious possessions to an elementary school on South Vance Street. I know many families who are familiar with the aggravated rape that occurred on that Wicker campus a few decades back who would never send their children there.

No amount of criticism aimed at citizens opposed to the W.B. Wicker elementary school project will change the truth about this project. While inconvenient, it remains the truth, and it is anything but partisan.

 

Jim Womack

Lee County Republican Party Chair

[Published in the Sanford Herald, February 8, 2017]