Editorial: Let’s Do What’s Right for Our Kids

Ask just about anyone in Clarke County how they feel about the 10-year odyssey that we all refer to as “the new school” and you’ll get fairly consistent replies that include “embarrassment”, “outrageous”, “incompetence” and “shameful”. It’s awfully hard to argue that these labels aren’t well deserved. After all, who continues to be hurt by delays other than a group of exceptionally bright and talented students who just happen to be our children?

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

No, the people of Clarke County have got it right. The school deliberation process has gone on far too long and for all of the wrong reasons. Most of us still remember the seemingly endless wrangling over selection of the current building site. (By the way, the School Board which presided over that fiasco was unceremoniously booted out of office.) The wisdom of placing Mosby Boulevard through the middle of a school campus still has most people wondering “Who’s idea was that?” And now it seems that both the County and the Town are nickel-and-diming the construction budget in hopes of making up for declining tax revenues.

This kind of behavior is hurting our kid’s chance for a better future and it just has to stop.

In just the last week we’ve seen Clarke County float a notion to offset the salary of its under-employed building inspection department.  Source of funding for the offset? You guessed it, the school construction budget. We’ve also seen Berryville insist on a fire flow design that the School Board Chairman says is $300K more expensive than a comparable plan that she has proposed (oh, and by the way, the $300K of added expense will be split between the school budget and taxpayers pocket if you hadn’t  already guessed.) And if you’re a proponent of “green design” (we’ve heard that it’s starting to catch on in the US) here’s a message for you about Clarke’s environmental stewardship: There isn’t enough money for water-permeable parking spaces at the new high school but there is $21M available to build a new treatment facility to handle the excessive run-off that green design can help eliminate. And let’s not forget the Town’s requirement last week to reinstate funds for a walking trail that its citizens reportedly don’t even want. (Yep, that’s coming out of the school construction budget too.)

Mosby Blvd - Berryville, VA

Mosby Blvd - Berryville, VA

At least with Mosby Boulevard we can partially blame “faceless” bureaucrats in Richmond. Not so easy (or faceless) when it comes to these other issues.

It seems like we have all gotten so desperate to finally get something built (anything really) that common sense is being abandoned in favor of expediency. “Haste makes waste” goes the old adage but Clarke County can ill afford financial waste in these challenging economic times.

It’s time to put aside the politics in favor of doing what’s best for our kids.

We think that it’s time for the Board of Supervisors, Town Council and School Board to hold a one-day work session dedicated to restoring “peace and reconciliation” to the school construction budget process (read “The citizens of Clarke County are really fed up with the financial bickering and its impact on the education of our kids.)

Potentially wasting $300K  simply to avoid a  possible review process delay needs to be the first item on the work session agenda. Next, tackle the issues around Mosby Boulevard. Third, make a pact to stop eyeing the school construction budget like it’s a “rainy day” fund for revenue strapped departments. If you’re not sure about the other issues to add to the agenda check with the citizens of Clarke County, they will certainly be able to offer some guidance.

Getting on the same financial page won’t be too difficult if everyone is willing to try. We’re all neighbors in one of Virginia’s smallest counties.  We know that you can do it and we all support and thank you for your efforts. After all, we’ve been at this for nearly a decade. Let’s at least try to get it right and stop the wasteful rush to simply say that we finally made it across the finish-line. Our students (and taxpayers) will appreciate it.


  1. What people have forgotten is that other county departments had their budgets frozen for five years I believe in order to get the high school built. I was a county employee at the time. We sacrifised raises and no financial growth to programs that served our citizens, including our elderly and vulnerable families. Shameful is the least of the adjectives to describe this process.

  2. Lonnie Bishop says:

    Ummm…have not school employee salaries also been frozen the past several years, and in response to decreased revenues available – not for debt service on the construction money? Get your facts straight. Do not blame the schools for any cuts to “the elderly and vulnerable families.” More of that blame falls on Richmond, and the cuts to core services across the budget that have been made and await the Governor’s signature.

  3. Jim Gibson says:

    Very little about the process of putting a new high school on the Battlefield Estates property has been free of political turf wars, political wrangling and gamesmanship, secret emails made public, inferior plans purchased without apparent due research and examination, and so on. The powers that be, on ALL sides in this county, town and on the School Board (past and current), have contributed to Clarke becoming a laughingstock.

    “Dialogue” is a good thing, IF it moves the process forward. “Dia logue” for the sake of talking, again, about the same sets of prejudices, personal scores to settle, and the like will serve no real purpose.

    A quality high school is 24 years past due. Blame can be rightfully assigned all around for that. County and town students will benefit from a quality facility, equipped with quality equipment and textbooks and resources – this is undeniable. And, allegedly, what all vested parties want.

    IF that is indeed the case, then ALL vested parties need to tell their respective staffs and members of their respective boards or councils to leave personal anythings at home, roll up their sleeves, and make this happen. There really is no excuse that a small community such as this should constantly refight the same “rich-poor,” “county-town,” “School Board-everyone else” battles over and over again.

  4. Doug Landry says:

    I think that Dr. Murphy and certain members of the current School Board have done a decent job of trying to move the process forward with as little political static as possible. Don’t know that I can say the same thing about certain key staffers and leaders on other local boards around here.

    • Jim Gibson says:

      I agree with you, Doug. Dr. Murphy, and a few others on all sides, have been refreshing voices of moderation and collegiaity through this process.

      My hope is that all sides can show a similar level of willingness to put aside the rancor and mistrust of the past, and focus on getting the best possible high school built in as expedious and fiscally prudent manner possible.