Johnston’s county commissioners know their role in school building. With voter approval, they dole out dollars, and the board of education decides what kind of schools to build where.
But that doesn’t mean commissioners can’t have legitimate questions about how the school board spends taxpayer dollars, and so it was last week, when commissioners agreed to put a bond issue on the November ballot in Johnston County.
Commissioner DeVan Barbour, a former school board member, by the way, had a few questions, fair ones that we hope school leaders will address. For one, he wanted to know why the school board planned to borrow money long term to finance the purchase of technology, which can become obsolete quickly because of innovation. That would be akin to a family taking out 30-year mortgage to buy a home computer that will, in a few years, be antiquated because of advances in technology.
Mr. Barbour wondered also why the bond package doesn’t put a greater emphasis on classroom space; the package, for example, includes significant dollars for athletic facilities, including a field house and a gym.
Finally, Mr. Barbour wondered why the school board wasn’t building out existing campuses before building new ones. The bond package calls for a new middle school between Four Oaks and McGee’s Crossroads, and yet together, the middle schools in those two communities have room for another 24 classrooms.
Mr. Barbour’s concerns are fair ones. Because of the interest expense, is it smart to finance any technology over many years? Who, for example, finances a new car for 25 or 30 years? As for athletic facilities over classroom space, a field house doesn’t address the school board’s stated desire to get children out of mobile classrooms. Finally, why design schools for expansion if we don’t plan to expand them?
No one should take Mr. Barbour’s questions to mean that he and his fellow commissioners don’t support the bond issue they just agreed to put on the ballot. We’re certain they do, because these commissioners have rightly concluded that borrowing money to build schools meets a need that is fair to current and future taxpayers.
But Johnston County’s ability to borrow money isn’t limitless, which means the county needs to spend wisely. We trust school leaders agree, and we trust they will answer Mr. Barbour’s questions to his satisfaction and to the satisfaction of voters.