by Joe Kirkpatrick
This was an article I wrote in July, 2011. Even though some things have changed since it was first published, I felt it needed to be read again.
Tragically, Blue Springs Elementary School was damaged beyond repair by the recent tornado. Instead of rebuilding on the existing site which the county already owns debt free, the school board is looking for property to buy to build a new school on. I don't know what they are planning on building, but I'm sure it will be an expensive brick and mortar type building. I want to tell you about another type of school building.
In 1969, a group of parents in Lee County, Arkansas started a small private school in a rented store building. Lee County was, and still is, one of the fifty lowest economic counties in the nation. These were not affluent parents - mainly factory and farm workers, but all wanted a better education for their children than was offered in the public schools. By 1971, enrollment had grown, and a small plot of barren farmland on the outskirts of town was purchased. To save money, a metal building was constructed, and Lee Academy was born. Today, Lee Academy serves students from several surrounding counties in the Delta, and the test scores of their students greatly exceed those of the public schools in that area. This is just not about the good test scores of a small private school in Arkansas - this IS about not spending millions of dollars on a school building. Bradley County Schools spend over $7000 per year on each student. Cleveland City Schools spend almost $9000 per student. Today, the tuition at Lee Academy is $3600 per year, with absolutely no tax revenue income. The nucleus of the Lee Academy campus is still the original metal building which was constructed in the early 1970's. The campus now has other buildings, but they are metal too.
My point? Why spend double on brick and mortar school building? Will it make test scores go up? Sure, they look nice, but folks, we are in a bad economy, with no economic daylight in sight. We have not had a property tax rate increase in Bradley County for twelve years which is commendable. Our County Mayor and Commissioners have been good stewards of our tax dollars, but now is a critical economic time for our county, state, and country. Even though unpopular, the best solution would be to consolidate the students from Blue Springs into Waterville and Black Fox Schools. Adding metal building additions to those schools will be far less expensive than a new school on new land. If that is deemed unfeasible, the next best alternative is to erect a metal building on the existing Blue Springs School site. I think if the citizens of the Blue Springs area were given those two choices, they will gladly pick the latter.