Title: Maintenance of Schools, Buses, and Everything Else
Before I begin, after reading this blog update, may I suggest looking at my other updates? Wait, perhaps I should have put this link at the end of this blog, oh well, I'm leaving it.
First off, let me begin by saying that we’re drastically in need of change on the Sullivan County School Board of Education (BOE), especially in District 5 in which I’m a candidate. There are certainly a few good people currently on the school board, but those who are masquerading as independents are not among them. I’m not saying that they’re personally bad people, but the decisions they’ve made as members of the school board are decisions that are leading us down the road of fiscal ruin and are decisions that no rational resident of Sullivan County who must live within their means would ever make. I guess when it’s the taxpayer’s money, it’s as if rational and cognizant thought goes out the window.
Look at how for years Sullivan North (my alma mater), South, and Central were intentionally not maintained, in favor of building a new high school (West Ridge). Now look at how Sullivan East isn't being properly maintained, which to me borders on criminal. Maintenance intentionally took and is presently taking a back seat for what reasons(s). For what reason isn't East being maintained? The residents of this county deserve answers, and if elected to the BOE, I'll work to find out just why that is.
Think about it, the building of West Ridge was kept well under wraps until the precipice had been crossed. The BOE had $10 million earmarked for maintenance at East, and $3 million each for South and Central that was misappropriated into West Ridge, or according to Evelyn Rafalowski it was absorbed into the building of West Ridge given the BOE members and some of the school administrators (at that time mind you) refused to leave the contractor alone, which caused millions of dollars in needless overages after they kept making needless aesthetic design changes. Now, I will say, that the school does look good, which is a testament to the architects and builders, but not thanks to those who needlessly meddled. Regardless, these actions were certainly wrong, but not illegal.
Mind you, my comments regarding West Ridge aren’t in any way an attack on anyone who attends, or attended, works at, or parents of past and/or present students. Nor is it an attack on those who support the school in various ways as I do with an annual scholarship. It is, however, a comment on the underhanded and secretive nature that kept the public in the dark about the BOE's plans to close schools and build West Ridge.
Now, I should say, that I understand at times schools need to be closed and consolidated, I get it. I also understand that nostalgia isn't a good reason to keep schools that have outlived their need open. Regardless, I think there were better options that could have been taken, but sadly the BOE had ulterior motives, which was one reason they let certain schools fall into disrepair. That aside, keeping the public in the blind without giving them a long lead time for comment is nowhere close to how public business should be conducted.
However, when it comes to Sullivan East the Patriots who work, teach, and attend school there are subject to dealing with deplorable conditions. Or, in reality, I would say hazardous conditions with roofs leaking into classrooms, that if not dealt with immediately could collapse and hurt, or worse kill many kids and faculty members. I've heard from several reliable sources that the roof is still under warranty, but just barely. Regardless, the BOE needs to at once make this the top priority and get it fixed, instead of playing gotcha games with the Sullivan County Commission.
Those who downplay these facts are doing everyone a major disservice, and that’s putting it nicely. These conditions are also a lawsuit in the making, and at this point, I’m not sure why a class action suit hasn’t been filed. A lawsuit that the taxpayers of this county will have to pay for, which is yet another burden that taxpayers shouldn’t have to shoulder. But when inept individuals are making decisions that make no sense on any level, it’s something that may come to pass sooner rather than later. If it sadly does come to pass that anyone is injured due to this negligent and toxic atmosphere, I feel that those responsible shouldn't be shielded from prosecution, as I said, this situation is likely criminal.
Before I get ahead of myself, I should mention that I'm not an Attorney, but I do have a criminal justice degree and I'm a member of Alpha Phi Sigma which is the National Criminal Justice Honor Society for what it's worth. (Find more about my education here, as well as the organizations I belong to here.)
That said, I’m a fiscal conservative who’s been entrusted with government projects anywhere in the range of a few thousand dollars to multi-million dollar ones, and I would have been sacked from my job if I mishandled the taxpayer’s dollars in the way our school board has in recent years. I’m reminded of the words of a Navy Chief Petty Officer and former White House Communications Agency colleague who told me, “We must be good custodians of the taxpayers’ money, and just because we can spend an extra few thousand dollars, doesn’t mean that we should.” However, there’s a stark difference between being fiscally responsible and being truly irresponsible with people’s lives and livelihoods.
See my take on how the BOE wasted 11 million dollars earmarked to build a pool.
“What Really Grinds My Gears”
Now let me shift gears (pun intended) just a bit, but I’ll stick with the idea of being fiscally responsible.
If you’ve been to West Ridge in recent months, you’ll notice there are about 15 new school buses that are sitting unused. These buses were purchased with the nonsensical idea that the county BOE would operate their buses. Bear in mind, that new school buses cost around $65,000 to $100,000 and in some cases up to $200K depending on the type purchased and all the options one could get with them. At present, these buses are started and driven around the school on rare occasions, but besides that, they’re sitting unused with no rational plan to ever put them into operation and that’s just for starters.
Remember, the cost of purchasing a new bus is just the beginning. Most school systems around the country keep a bus for “up to 20 years” according to Thomas Built Buses (see link below). On the same website, they outline other costs, costs such as fuel, operations costs such as maintenance (which the BOE has no plan for), other services and repairs, and parts. This is just the basics of owning a bus or in this case buses.
Then you must factor in insurance, the cost of paying drivers, and likely the drivers would need to become BOE employees instead of employees of one of three companies that currently have contracts with the school system. This then brings us to the cost of their labor, such as a base salary, annual pay raises, bonuses for things like safety records, overtime, insurance from medical to life, etc. as well as a pension plan, which would fall under long-term unfunded liabilities and that only gets us to the starting line. I think the best option at this point is for the BOE to drop the idea of operating its buses, which would free local contractors to receive loans to purchase newer buses and conduct their maintenance, maintenance that in this area will cost an average of $125 an hour and that again is just for starters.
With the fleet of buses currently sitting at West Ridge, I think that one option would be to keep a few to use for school sports, bands, or local field trips. But the best option might be to sell them to a local contractor at cost and merely recoup the money already wasted on them.
Bottom line, when it comes to the Sullivan County School Board District 5 seat, the choice is clear. I hope everyone will get registered, and I hope everyone will certainly vote, and I hope the vote you cast will be for me.
Thank you and God bless!
Total cost of ownership | Thomas built buses. (2021, September 8). Thomas Built Buses. https://thomasbuiltbuses.com/school-buses/cost-of-ownership/
Todd A. McKinley, BA, MSL