Cove issue should be of concern

Fewer than 10 Spring Cove School District residents attended a school board meeting last Tuesday at which information carrying huge financial implications was outlined.

The meeting confirmed that many more residents need to start paying attention regarding what lies ahead.

At the session, an architectural planner told the school board that the district faces tens of millions of dollars of renovations or new construction to fix what is wrong with the district’s aging schools.

Meanwhile, Spring Cove is faced with a potentially controversial realignment of facilities if administrators and the board intend to implement all of the efficiencies that could be available to the district.

Beyond the troubling cost projections tied to needed renovations or new construction, a number of other disturbing points of emphasis, especially about 53-year-old Central High School, were at center stage.

Among them were that the school is possibly asbestos-lined, fails to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and could be facing a catastrophic operational failure of its boilers or other systems.

At the same time, the district apparently is wasting money on energy costs related to that school’s energy-inefficient windows.

Then there’s the Spring Cove Middle School, which also was identified as being in need of large-scale repairs, and district elementary schools that are culprits in costly inefficiencies that officials need to address, albeit reluctantly.

Board members rightly expressed concerns about the financial impact on district taxpayers once a plan of remedial action is implemented. Money shortages continue to haunt the district, having forced the furloughing of some teachers this year.

At the same time, Spring Cove, like other school systems across the state, continues to struggle with ballooning pension-funding obligations emanating from the state Legislature’s shortsighted 25 percent pension-increase approval for teachers in 2001.

Without relief from the General Assembly, Spring Cove and the rest of the commonwealth’s school districts face ongoing pension-funding burdens that will limit their ability to address serious needs like those that lie ahead for Spring Cove.

Yet, as last Tuesday’s meeting revealed, residents who will be impacted directly by what needs to be done – and what decisions need to be made – stay at home or are preoccupied with other activities.

Then, as has happened in so many other districts over time, many residents are likely to converge on their elected school officials to protest the spending of so much money, the negative impact on their property tax bills, and how approved changes will inconvenience them.

The time to get firsthand information about the district’s needs and the potential financial ramifications is before the decisions are made. There still is time for residents to become informed about what’s at hand; the board and administration still must spend time fully assessing what the architectural planner presented.

But district Superintendent Robert Vadella made an excellent point on Tuesday.

“We’d like to think about what we might need to do before we have any system failures,” he said.

District residents should be active participants in that process, but they’re not likely to be if they show as much disinterest as was in play last week.