Strategic plan should invest in schools

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County commissioners have embarked on a strategic planning effort, which is another way of saying they are trying to look off into the future a little bit.

The process is a complicated – and, honestly, conceptual one – but it’s critically important for an organization like county government to be able to look beyond the next county commissioners meeting or even beyond the current fiscal year.

Commissioners were uncharacteristically non-participatory in the early stage of this process.

Only one commissioner – Gordon Powell – responded to an email with ideas for what he would like to see considered for inclusion in a five-year strategic plan. At last Monday’s county board meeting, two other commissioners offered up some additional thoughts. We still haven’t heard from two board members.

Let’s hope we will.

In the meantime, this is a good time for the public to weigh in on the things they would like to see county commissioners and county employees focus their attention and resources on over the next few years.

So, over the next couple weeks, leading up to the board’s next strategic planning session set for April 1, we’ll offer a few areas commissioners could focus the county’s attention.

Education must be at the top of the county’s list. Public school funding is the largest single target of county funding.

Each year the school board makes up a budget request in two parts – an operating budget with funds required to pay the bills for the upcoming year, and a capital budget, with larger expense items that don’t come around every year like building maintenance projects and vehicle replacement.

Schools have been woefully underfunded in recent years, in part due to the recession of 2008, which put a crunch on everyone’s finances, including Person County’s. Necessary building maintenance has been put off. Little has been done to attract and retain the very best teachers we can bring to Person County.

But the school system has a new focus now. Innovation is more than just a buzzword in our schools. Educators are actively seeking better ways to prepare our students for whatever the future may hold – whether that’s a continuation of education through a community college or four-year university, or a direct entrance into the workplace. School system leaders have been smart to realize that for some students, a vocational education is what is most needed. The school system has built partnerships with Piedmont Community College and they’ve focused resources on career-readiness curriculum.

County commissioners can use this strategic planning exercise to get a clear picture of what the school system’s needs will be, both on the physical plant side and on the curriculum and professional side. At this time, more than in any other time in recent memory, there’s a willingness to shake up the status quo within our schools. County commissioners can encourage that kind of aggressive effort by making sure the resources are available to accomplish the school system’s goals.

Few people would argue that an investment in our children is a bad idea. But that investment should be a wise, well-thought effort. It should come with a clear understanding of what the school system is trying to do and what it will take to get there.

And, it should be a priority for county commissioners.

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