A hasty decision on schools may be one we regret

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 31, 2005

At first, I squirmed in my seat a little bit on Tuesday night as my name was flashed on the screen before me.

My name was listed with members of the committee asked to consider options for either renovating or replacing the Ironton City Schools.

Tuesday night's meeting was a public forum of sorts to discuss the process by which the school district can use state money and to discuss the options and plans under consideration on this November's ballot.

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So at first, I felt a little guilty, not as you might think because I was afraid of what people might think about my vote on the committee, but rather in that I wasn't able to make any of the committee meetings.

Then I realized that I really didn't have anything to feel guilty about, because almost as soon as I was asked to participate, I informed the organizers that I would be out of town on newspaper business for each of the first two committee meetings and that I'd be returning late in the afternoon of the third meeting. Ultimately a delayed flight forced me to miss that one, too.

"Well, we'd still like you to be on the committee," I was told.

I relented.

Several friends and business acquaintances were also on the committee and I've spoken to several about the committee meetings, what was discussed and what was decided.

Ultimately, the committee voted to recommend the plan that would build all new schools forcing the demolition of the current Ironton High School building.

Both during and following last week's public forum several folks have questioned why the committee of 30 community members wound up with only 19 members voting on the recommendation.

The conspiracy theorists have conjectured that the missing members were missing so that the issue wouldn't end tied, or even close.

I can't speak for others, but I can tell you that isn't the case with me.

I simply couldn't be there.

Judging by some of the feedback at Tuesday's forum, I think we should all step back a bit and do some serious, honest discussion.

I wish Tuesday's forum had been held a couple of months ago. The community would probably have been much further along in the process of discussing the options and more clearly on what the issues are and what should be done about them.

Anything we do to upgrade the schools - which is obviously long overdue - will cost the community money through the tax levy required. The question is really: How much are we willing to pay and are we willing to pay more to save the high school?

At Tuesday's meeting, I couldn't help feel that the discussion was being "handled" or "spun" by the folks from the architectural firm, one of whom introduced himself and purported to be "one of us" because unlike most of the others on stage he wasn't wearing a coat and tie.

The man basically told a joke and then wandered around the room, presumably trying to observe and judge the audience's reaction to what was being said.

What we as a community do needs to be discussed as openly and honestly as we can, by people who live here, work here, pay taxes here and send their children to school here. The school district should host a few more of these forums in which people can ask questions directly and tour the high school in small groups to see, first-hand, what the problems truly are.

If we make a hasty decision, we'll all be squirming in our seats for a long while. Let's take our time, work together and make the right decision.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441 ext. 12 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@irontontribune.com.