Solving School Issues in Frederick County
If we look back on the history of county government, we’ve been having the never ending discussion of how to build schools for well over 30 years. Current County Executive Jan Gardner became involved in local government as a citizen activist speaking out on school overcrowding in the 1990’s.
In 1998, she ran for and was elected a commissioner, a position she held for 12 years including a term as president of the Board of County Commissioners from 2006 to 2010. So, for 14 of the last 18 years she has been in county government. Now she is the county executive and, somehow, we still can’t fund schools.
We’ve had the same conversation for 20 years, she’s used the same rhetoric of blaming developers, using their permits as political footballs. We have the same problem today we had when she was first elected 18 years ago.
It should also be noted that she spent four years (2010–2014) with U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s office. So, all in all, she will have spent 22 years in public office after this term as executive, and the only things she has accomplished is getting a taxpayer-funded paycheck for those years along with a taxpayer funded retirement.
What did the taxpayer get? We received a bill for her “service” and schools that are still, according to her, overcrowded. She did have an answer when she was asked why we still have overcrowded schools after all this time. It’s Blaine Young’s fault.
Enough of this rant. Now let me lay out the plan to solve this problem of school construction once and for all. Back in February we had a discussion on school funding and why we can only build one elementary school instead of the needed two. Both of these facilities have been in the CIP (Capital Improvements Plan) for at least a decade. Once a school is set in the CIP for long term planning, funds are systematically set aside each year. So, when the time comes, funds are programmed and ready for use to build the school. That all works well until Jan Gardner get elected as county executive and suddenly the funds for a second elementary school disappear.
Ms. Gardner quickly blamed developers (and Blaine Young) and resorted to her old trick of strong arming local developers into being part of her “solution” to fund the second school. Yes, two local developers stepped up and forward funded the bond debt to build the second school. A school that’s been in the CIP for at least 10 years. Set aside funds have disappeared, and the “evil” developers have financed the bill, twice.
Now, you might say, Delauter, how did this money disappear? Let me explain. You see, Ms. Gardner made a campaign promise to buy back the Citizens Nursing Home and Montevue Assisted Living Facility. She simply breached a contract with Aurora Holdings, threatened eminent domain, spent $8.7 million of taxpayer funds and issued new taxable bond debt of $35 million for the repurchase of the facilities.
You may say, Delauter, what does this have to do with building schools?
Well, where do you think the bond capacity went that was allocated to the second school? The second school had $21 million in bond debt allocated to it.
How do you fund a school when you use the bond capacity to repurchase a nursing home? The answer is, you can’t. There was no need to repurchase the nursing home. It was running just fine. If it wasn’t, why would the county executive allow the same company, Aurora, to continue to operate it for another 18 months?
I have laid out a plan to build, not only two elementary schools, but four in total. My plan allows for School “A” to be built, financed privately, and leased back to the school board. This allows for the funds (county cash) to move to School “B” to be built by the Frederick County Board of Education. The county cash from school “A” and “B” combined, makes this an all cash deal for school “B.” No bond debt. You mirror this model for school “C” and “D.”
So, in essence, we now have two schools paid for in cash, and two schools paid for by a private firm and leased back from the private funding source over 20 years. After the 20th year, the school building reverts back and is owned by the county.
Executive Gardner says this won’t work, that it’s too expensive, that something could go wrong, that the sun got in her eyes, and that it’s Blaine Young’s fault.
The fact is that it will work. The County Council is having another workshop in July to hone the costs and do a side-by-side comparison and bring this to the table as a viable option to build the school capacity we need. It’s this type of outside the box thinking that is needed to solve problems.
That is what I bring to the table, a business perspective that solves problems. I’m didn’t seek the office of county councilman for the paycheck or the pension (which I declined). I’m here to solve problems and make county government work for everyone, not just the select few who suit my agenda.
Stay tuned for more information on this new method of funding schools. We can think outside the box, or we can implement the same tired methods Jan Gardner has used for over 20 years with the same result – overcrowded schools.
We all know that it is insane to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result each time. The way we are funding our schools now just proves the rule.