It’s been little more than a month since The Mount Airy News ran a couple of stories looking at the potential cost savings which could be realized if the three school systems in Surry County — The Mount Airy, Elkin, and Surry County schools — merged into one larger district.
Since then we’ve done a few follow-up stories, showing that it’s possible the operating budget of the larger system could be greater, at least temporarily, than the sum of the cost of the three separate systems now; as well as a piece detailing how the local annual funding went up in two North Carolina counties after consolidations there. (We might add, however, an official who served in both of those systems said the the larger system was a stronger one educationally, offering more to the students, and was better able to efficiently use the existing facilities, than the smaller separate systems had been).
Yet neither of those counties were facing the more than $170 million upgrade and renovation bill facing Surry County taxpayers over the next decade or so, which makes the Surry County issue unique.
Since those stories ran there’s been little noise from either the county government or the school systems. A few county officials have talked to us, making casual comments about the idea — though none seem to be willing to openly support or oppose a consolidation study — while school superintendents simply won’t discuss the idea, as if refusing to acknowledge the idea of consolidation means it doesn’t exist.
The same seems to be happening with the idea of a potential bond referendum to pay for the needed upgrades throughput the three systems. The schools presented a study showing what they claim they need, and the superintendents, along with the county commissioners, all seemed to generally agree the only way this would happen is for the county to pass a bond referendum to finance the costs.
And that’s where the issue has stalled. School officials seem to be waiting on the county to do something, while county officials are content to simply leave it alone until the school folks do something.
So here sit the Surry County taxpayers, playing the waiting game while no one in supposed leadership positions has the political courage to lead the charge for or against the bonds, or a consolidation study, or most anything other than the status quo.
Ultimately, Surry County may need to fund those capital expenses as the best option for its students. However, all involved — taxpayers and students — are owed an independent study of whether consolidation makes sense for the three systems, and they are owed some sort of action now, rather than letting all of this languish until these issues become emergencies.
It’s time for the commissioners, the school board members, and the school system superintendents to stop playing games and exhibit leadership on this issue.
Get something done, take a position, be the leader you were elected (or hired) to be.