by Mel Griffith
All Bradley County taxpayers can be justly proud of the beautiful addition to Valley View School. The new Park View Elementary School on Minnis Road will also be a valuable addition to the county's school system. A new fine arts building is starting at Bradley Central High School. That's the good news.
The bad news is that these are likely to be the last major Bradley County building projects for quite some time to come. Quite simply, Bradley County has been living beyond its means for several years and has reached the point where spending has to be reined in. The county debt has increased from about 29 million dollars a few years ago, which in itself was a substantial debt, to over 80 million dollars today. As a result, our debt payments are being eaten up by interest instead of principal repayments. Fortunately, we have gotten a lot for our money and are in a good position for a pause.
Due to years of additions, new buildings and renovations, our school facilities are in excellent shape. We have a new jail, and for practical purposes, a new juvenile facility. The county has no choice but to hunker down and make do with what we have. A tax increase is out of the question in the present economic situation, and given the bungling in Washington, it is unlikely to show much improvement for a long time. The biggest unknown for the future is likely to be how fast the school system will grow.
In the ten years, from 1990 to 2000, student enrollment grew about 100 students, an average of about 10 a year. From 2000 to 2010 the number of students has grown about a thousand, or an average of about 100 a year. In other words, about as many students have been added each year as in 10 years in the decade before. What will be the trend in the future? Nobody knows. With new plants coming into the area there is likely to be a population increase.
If Cleveland decides to annex substantial parts of the area in its approved growth plan, there could be a considerable transfer of students from the county system to the city system. There are currently a large number of city students on the county system. If enrollment continues to increase, the school system will likely have to choose between sending them back to the city or installing a fleet of portables to provide adequate space.
The outlook for the next several years is not a bright one. If any candidates in the upcoming election have grand plans for improvements, it would be good to ask how they plan to pay for them.