Wicomico Public Schools superintendent John Fredericksen fancies himself a politician. He uses tax dollars to implement a (usually unsuccessful) grass roots lobbying effort to obtain more money to spend. He also doesn’t hesitate changing positions at a moment’s notice. Today’s op-ed by Fredericksen (along with the typically courageous stance of the Daily Times) provide more evidence that our county and state elected officials need to exercise great caution when dealing with Fredericksen and the Wicomico County Board of Education (BOE).
Fredericksen implies that Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver lied to the public by claiming that a replacement for West Salisbury Elementary School was not in the capital improvement plan:
This is a project that has been in the works for many years. Additions to West Salisbury Elementary were recommended 16 years ago in the 1998 Seidel Commission Report. Plans for a West Salisbury Elementary project have been in the Capital Improvement Plan and "future plans" section of the Facilities Master Plan each year since the Fiscal Year 2001 report — some 14 years ago. These reports go to the Board of Education and County Council each year and are available to the public.
This is a typical “bait and switch” which Fredericksen loves to foist on a plain speaking public. Culver was correct. The county’s capital improvement plan (CIP) does not include replacing West Salisbury for most of those years. It is not Culvers fault if the BOE did not submit a request or if the county council did not approve every capital request from the BOE. Wicomico County would be bankrupt if it did.
Here is where Fredericksen switches horses:
While planning and preparing for this replacement project, the school system has continued to perform appropriate and significant maintenance on the West Salisbury Elementary building through the years to help us keep the 50-year-old school in continuous service and functioning properly.
Members of the West Salisbury community were told that the school had not received meaningful renovation and needed to be replaced. Which is it? “Appropriate and significant maintenance” is not necessarily the same renovation or maintenance required to keep the school functioning at an acceptable level for 50, 75, or 100 years. There are many schools in this country that are over 100 years old and are still in use. Why? Efficient maintenance and renovation programs.
Maintenance and renovation cost money; money that the state does not provide. Of course, eight years of Martin O’Malley have all but guaranteed that state money will be drying up anyway. Culver and the county council need to make a conscious, and public, decision as to which route they wish to take:
- Maintain and renovate schools as needed to ensure that Wicomico County’s public schools can continue to be used for years to come. or …
- Allow the BOE to continue with its current (albeit unwritten) policy of allowing schools to get by with a minimum amount of maintenance and building a replacement school when a building begins to crumble.
We could find that it is actually cheaper (for Wicomico County) to continue with the current policy. It certainly isn’t for the state, which Wicomico taxpayers also help to fund.
Fredericksen also attempts to pass the buck regarding who decided that a new school was necessary:
This project received careful scrutiny prior to the school system seeking state planning approval and local support and funding for planning this fall. All of our major projects go through the School Building Commission, a body created by the County Council to help manage costs, reduce the likelihood of system failures and plan effectively.
The School Building Commission, made up of County Council members, Board of Education members, community members with skills and experience in the field and facility professionals, recommended the West Salisbury replacement school project proceed to planning.
The School Building Commission is designed to be a rubber stamp for Fredericksen. All information they receive comes from Fredericksen’s staff. Wicomico councilman Matt Holloway has stated that the commission was told that renovating West Salisbury was not economically feasible. Fredericksen wants a new school. Any question as to what information would be supplied to the School Building Commission. Fredericksen and the BOE successfully lobbied to have councilman Joe Holloway replaced because he was the only member who stood up to Fredericksen and the BOE by demanding that they present actual evidence to back up their recommendations. In the world of the BOE, looking out for the taxpayer is not even on the list of priorities. It’s “for the children”, don’t you know.
Should Wicomico County build a replacement for West Salisbury? That depends. This proposal shouldn’t even be revisited until the BOE locks down its plan for school re-districting and consolidation. IF the BOE commits to consolidating West Salisbury and Chipman Elementary schools, it makes some sense. The problem is that Wicomico taxpayers simply doesn’t trust Fredericksen or the BOE. Fredericksen has a history of misleading the county council. He didn’t have to mislead the previous county executive because Rick Pollitt never saw a tax dollar that he didn’t want to spend. Not so with Bob Culver. If Culver is smart he’ll record every meeting he has with Fredericksen or any BOE member.
The best way for Wicomico County to provide a solid education for its children AND do it in an efficient manner is for an informed citizenry to ask hard questions and demand plain answers.