It is hard to know where to begin this column on school construction. Do I start with the county commissioners’ flip-flop on covering cost increases beyond projections? Do I start with The Pilot’s editorial assigning blame to the school system for its inability to control construction industry price inflation? Do I start with a discussion of the odd bifurcation in North Carolina of school operating responsibility versus school funding responsibility? Or do I start with the perversion of fiscal responsibility that permeates public policy throughout the country?

Initially, the county commissioners indicated that they would cover the higher cost. Within days, they backed off that commitment. At that point, they claimed to be honoring what the public said.

But what did the public actually say when it overwhelmingly approved the borrowing almost a year ago? Unlike many places, North Carolina does not have provisions for public referendums on matters of public policy. The public actually votes directly on a very limited number of items like constitutional amendments and the issuance of general obligation debt.

It is this latter category under which the recent school bond vote falls. The public votes on whether to allow the issuance of general obligation debt, which commits the full faith and credit of a government to support that debt. So the public did not vote to build new schools, nor did it vote on how much to spend on those schools. Those are decisions of the county commissioners. They did not need a vote of the public to spend money that is being used to build the new McDeeds Creek school.

So the claim to be following the will of the voters totally misrepresents what the voters actually voted on. It is further disingenuous for the commissioners to say they cannot spend any more money on school construction not approved by a bond vote when the lack of a bond vote did not stop them from funding the McDeeds Creek school.

Also falling into the category of disingenuous is The Pilot editorial castigating the school system for being unable to accurately forecast the future. It is a bizarre notion that unfortunately I saw many times during my career.

Once a public entity makes a forecast, that forecast becomes set in stone, unable to change and adapt to new conditions.

On the matter of construction estimates, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t: If you estimate cost inflation high, you are said to be padding the budget. In contrast, if you try to avoid the padding invective by forecasting low inflation, you run the risk of not having enough money to complete the project. So you use the best professional advice you can muster on construction cost forecasts and hope for the best.

What is not the best is how North Carolina divides responsibility for school operations from responsibility for funding schools. With this system, neither the school board nor the county commissioners can be truly responsible for how our schools perform. Either one can effectively blame the other and have cogent arguments for doing so.

Other states do things differently. In some states there are independent school districts that not only operate the schools but also have the authority to set their own tax rates to fund schools. I have lived in another state where the county board had direct authority over the schools by appointing the school board and setting the tax rate. Either way clearly vests responsibility in one elected body which the voters can hold accountable for school performance.

And ending this discussion, I have to point out the real problem that has led us to this construction funding conundrum: the perversion of fiscal responsibility.

When our elected officials define fiscal responsibility as never raising tax rates, we end up with buildings, infrastructure and equipment that deteriorates to the point of rapid decline. The result is an exponential increase in costs to repair, renovate, or replace those physical assets. And since we must have those assets to deliver public services, we eventually pay a much higher cost by delaying than we would have paid had we addressed them on a timely and systematic basis.

Had prior boards of county commissioners replaced schools in an orderly process over previous decades, we would not be trying to build three replacement schools all at once in a time of rapidly increasing construction cost inflation. We would have saved money over the long haul, and we would not now be faulting school staff and board for lacking clairvoyance.


(7) comments

ken leary

Yes Jim, Kent is honest. He pines for for an antebellum america where he can exercise his paternalistic, authoritarian world view. He actually believes what he says. You are a CIA employee (or were) who, following the Dulles brother lead, worked for a clandestine organization which should have been disbanded years ago as a criminal entity.
There is excellent reporting on Venezuela by the Real News, Aaron Mate, Max Blumenthal, Venezuela analysis, former UN rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, and numerous other sources. There exists hours of video of these people interviewing people on the streets of Venezuela. The well to do, like the Cuban population in Florida, want to regain or maintain their privilege. The poor want Maduro. There was an election, one of many recent elections, and the so called "opposition" (which includes the USA/CIA) refused to participate. You are advocating another regime change war promoted by the oligarchs for the purpose of protecting capital. You Jim, are a conservative. I wish people like you would admit it,
A guy named Peter Phillips just wrote a book: "Giants: Global Power Elites"
He reports: There are seventeen trans national investment groups which have about two hundred total board members who control 41 trillion dollars. With that 41 trillion dollars they control 3 of the largest public relations firms on earth: Omnium Group, IPG, and WPP. He says, and you will have to check this out Jim, that these firms write the news content allowed on AT&T, Comcast, CBS, Disney, Fox and Viacom which are also owned by these transnational firms. Where do you get your information Jim? And again: how many dead children in Venezuela are you willing to live with so that the Koch brothers can get the Venezuelan heavy crude without which their refinery can't operate. You know of course that Bolton, Halliburton, Exxon, and your man Guaido have already made a deal. Really, I find your world view much more dangerous than Kents. He is obvious; to be defeated if possible. You sleaze around the edges making progress much more difficult.

Jim Tomashoff

"I find your world view much more dangerous than Kents." You are certainly free to believe whatever you want.

ken leary

Building new schools has little to do with education. No schools have been built in Moore county in how many years, thirty. They built a new jail. Priorities. New schools in Moore County coordinate with the USA's "base realignment" operation which has brought thousands of new people to the area. Education is not the motivation. Greed is. We know our current leadership does not value education. They covet improved infrastructure at taxpayers expense which enhances their undeveloped property values and helps the capitalists enhance their positions.

Jim Tomashoff

Ken, you are as far-off crazy on the "Left," as Kent is on the "Right." Get a grip on reality, you're just feeding the hysteria of so-called Conservatives.

ken leary

Yes, and you are a "liberal" who thinks the CIA is a benevolent society purposed with improving the worlds international relationships through torture, gun running, regime change, drone murders, private wars, and assassinations. You suggest overthrowing the legitimately elected president of Venezuela by the team of Pompeo, Bolton, and Abrams. Those guys are who you are siding with? How many children have to die in Venezuela from the USA's sanctions? 500,000 thousand like Iraq; 80,000 like Yemen. What number will you find acceptable so that the koch brothers can get their crude to their single purpose Texas refinery. Stick to Kent Jim. He is more your speed; and at least he is honest. Read "Listen Liberal" by Thomas Frank.

Jim Tomashoff

Ken, you've simply added more ammunition to my earlier assessment of where you're coming from. Maduro was "...legitimately elected..."? Hardly. But believe what you want. Kent " honest." Hardly, but again, believe what you want.

Kent Misegades

Allowing any unelected bureaucrat or school board member the ability to set taxing is tantamount to inviting the fox into the hen house. The Commissioners gave contracts to architects and builders from Wake County, who are used to the deep pockets and lack of fiscal responsibility up there. In my mind their primary error was to allow MCS to dictate what should be built, and not considering low-cost alternatives that abound in our state. The bulk of blame though goes to voters who approved the bond and the increased sales tax. Too bad that those of us not duped also have to pay for this bad decision.

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