Passing a $120 Million Bond Creating 30 Years of Debt for a Small City Is NOT About Education
Fairfax College Placement from Maintained and Reconstructed Schools Show Up Referendum Fallacies
Passage of Referendum Instead of Renovation Removes $40 Million from Classroom Use
By Sam Mabry
Mabry is a Former City Vice Mayor
As the students at George Mason High were left to languish over the last several years in facilities that were increasingly in need of repair and replacement, the City Council and School Board allowed them to deteriorate even further. This strategy of demolition by neglect to convince the voters to approve $120 Million of debt for 30 years is a craven act on several levels: It used the students to facilitate a mandate for a new school and it made it appear that no action short of a new facility would be sufficient for educational purposes.
Fairfax County has put asunder both of those Council and School Board strategies. The County has shown that reconstruction and repair of facilities, to keep students safe and to enhance educational objectives, is possible and at a cost that preserves more funding for classroom requirements–of which the major component is competitive teacher salaries.
Undertaking a $75 Million renovation and expansion at GMHS instead of new school would save about $40 Million in principal and interest for instruction. Four years from now, when the $7 Million per year bond charges hit, funds for instruction/teacher salaries will be under tremendous stress. And those students who now are about to enter the school system or are in the 1st or 2nd grade will be the most adversely effected by any budget shortfalls.
Recall that reconstruction alternatives for GMHS costing much less were presented to the Board and Council by consultants and were rejected.
Why It’s a Vanity Project
There are many ways to measure high school educational achievement and the quality of the schools. Spending $120 Million on a new school instead of rehabilitating an exiting facility for much less is NOT one of them. For example, the colleges or universities to which its students are accepted is one measurement of a school’s success. In this regard, McLean and Langley–the former well maintained given its age and the latter having completed a $70 Million renovation and expansion–both faired superbly on student colleges acceptances. The 2015 McLean High School graduate acceptance list of colleges follows.