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New school board should create facilities plan and stick with it

I want to offer some advice to the new Lincoln County School District Board of Trustees before it seats for the first time in January.

No, I’m not a school expert. Never played one on TV. Didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. None of that.

But I’m gonna say it anyway.

The board next meets for ceremonial purposes, at 5 p.m. on Jan. 7 at the State Room, to swear in new members Tim Cunningham, Justin Laird and Billy Vaughn. After that, the next regular meeting is Jan. 22.

It doesn’t have to be between those two dates, but sometime before 2019 gets good and started, the new board should hold a special-called meeting, order up a mess of pizza and be prepared to sit a few hours while the members hammer out a long-range facilities plan for construction needs in the school district.

The Lincoln County board has an interesting problem — while many districts have a big list of needs and can’t even find two quarters in the couch cushions, this board is sitting on $6.5 million of free-and-clear construction funds that can be put toward a serious facelift of all four county schools.

The projects are there. At Superintendent Mickey Myers’ request, the principals have already submitted a wishlist, even ranked it from one to 10, with 10 being “we sure would like to have this,” and one being “the children will spontaneously combust if this isn’t approved.” Bogue Chitto placed 13 projects on its list — don’t throw out any cigarette butts down there or they’re liable to explode.

But until these projects are reviewed, prioritized and arranged in a board-approved facilities plan, politics threatens to derail any plans to move forward. It’s already happened twice within the last few months.

If nothing else, the plan for a $1.9 million sports complex at Loyd Star is ambitious. The community convinced the board to balk at the plan in August for a handful of reasons — cost, need, not enough priority on academics, access to the property — and all were valid reasons. But Loyd Star’s reasons for needing the field were valid, too. In the end, the two board members from the Loyd Star area were the only votes that supported the project as it fell down to a 3-2 defeat.

At the time, board President Diane Gill and outgoing trustee Joanna Posey more or less demanded the board put together a facilities plan, but it never happened. Had such a plan been ready before Monday this week, I doubt a $430,000 project to upgrade the football field at West Lincoln would have been perched atop it (it was No. 3 on the school’s own list). But that’s what was on the agenda, and the board went through another moment of indecision as the same arguments that doomed the Loyd Star project brought down West Lincoln’s.

Across the district, there are softball fields flooding, roofs leaking, lights shorting out, parent pick-up lines backing out onto highways, all manner of problems the board can address with its heavy war chest — but not if projects continue to wander onto the agenda to die by the same hesitation over the same questions.

That’s why the new board should entertain those same questions one more time, hear those same arguments for and against one more time, finalize a facilities plan and stick to it until the Second Coming or the money’s gone, whichever comes first. Get all the heartache over who is chosen over whom out of the way now, and get to work.

If the new board determines a school needs a new sports complex above all-else, rank it high on the list and sink the shovels. If the members determine instead not another ball will be tossed in the name of Lincoln County schools before a new computer lab is constructed, then rank it high on the list and call up the Dell Student Computing division and get after it.

Then, they should stop having these discussions.

The facilities plan will be the agreed-upon construction Bible, and add thou not unto those words, lest thee be reproved and found a liar. The board should take on the projects in order, as they ranked them, and stick to the plan.

A long-range facilities plan, developed with care and consideration, is a common and necessary document used by governments and businesses to prepare for growth and expansion needs. It’s going to be hard for the Lincoln County School District to move forward without one.

Email managing editor Adam Northam at adam.northam@dailyleader.com