School Proposal Still Incomplete

A proposal to spend as much as $86 million to improve Ohio County public schools needs to be more than “ready for prime time.” It needs to be ready for voters who will want assurances the $43 million in higher taxes they are being asked to pay will be spent wisely.

Clearly, the upgrade plan was not ready when it was unveiled at an Ohio County Board of Education meeting this month. At that time, a key proposal was to eliminate the centralized kitchen system used now to prepare hot lunches for students. A cost-saving measure adopted many years ago did away with kitchens at individual schools, replacing them with a centralized facility at Wheeling Park High School. From there, meals are transported to each school.

Just a few weeks ago, the idea was for the $86 million campaign to include new kitchens at many schools. But by Tuesday, when a public meeting was held to discuss the proposal, the plan had been altered.

Assistant school Superintendent Rick Jones told those at the meeting officials were working to reduce the cost of the upgrade package. One change in that regard is eliminating the individual school kitchens.

Another is looking at more ways to reduce energy costs, Jones noted. Initially, officials said part of the $86 million cost of the project would be covered by $14 million in energy savings.

Voters will be asked to approve higher taxes to cover $43 million, with the remainder coming from the state — local officials hope.

Much of the talk Tuesday was about improving technology available to students. That certainly is a worthwhile goal, but adequate detail about the proposal still has not been provided.

For example, one possibility discussed Tuesday was to provide all students (presumably, those above a certain grade level) with their own laptop computers.

Will that be part of the proposal? And, if so, what provisions will be made for replacement of student laptops that are broken, lost, worn out or made obsolete?

Ohio County voters have proven for decades that they are willing — nay, eager — to pay higher taxes if they believe local children will benefit. But school officials are talking about an $86 million program, with $43 million of that coming from increased tax bills. The very scope of the proposal will prompt voters to want much more information than they have heard thus far.