Nearly a year ago in this space we suggested that the Warren County School Board accept a referendum question on incurring new debt for capital improvements to its physical plant, essentially Beaty-Warren Middle School and Eisenhower Middle/High School.
We still believe that, given the circumstances at the time, such a referendum would have been a good idea.
Now, apparently there is a movement to seek a referendum similar to what we proposed then.
However, circumstances have changed; the school district's plans have changed.
While we still wince at the millions of dollars about to be spent on Beaty, at least the current plan with regard to Eisenhower comes with some attendant savings through the closing of two elementary schools and some shuffling of other facilities with an eye toward economy.
No, it's not our favorite plan, but it's a plan we believe the county can live with, given declines in enrollment, stagnant revenues, and a state government that is in full retreat on education.
When that initial referendum was proposed there appeared to be only two options available to the school district to cope with the declining physical health of the Eisenhower facility and declining enrollment. The district could either spend money to improve (virtually rebuild) Eisenhower to maintain the status quo, or it could consolidate those grades into other, better maintained, facilities.
Even then, the School Board (save for one member) appeared to be in favor of improving Eisenhower by moving forward with a no-interest loan combining that project with Beaty's. The Eisenhower portion was dropped when it became clear that it was being eyed as a charter school.
It remained in that status until a new superintendent with a new plan arrived on the scene. Brandon Hufnagel's plan essentially saved Eisenhower from any consideration of closure by making it a K-12 facility. The savings from the closure of Russell and Sugar Grove elementaries would ameliorate at least some of the cost of the new debt. Most importantly though, the Hufnagel plan was a compromise among the fiscal, educational and political realities of the issue.
Like any compromise, it is far from perfect and satisfies neither those who would prefer consolidation nor those who sought the status quo or even those who champion the charter school alternative.
We believe that this school district will reach its natural bottom in terms of enrollment within the next five to seven years, a point at which K-12s at Eisenhower and Sheffield will serve well their respective communities and the district as a whole.
A referendum now would set the district back at least two years, foster a dissolution of the district itself, and ultimately cost taxpayers even more than what is currently on the table.