Thursday, May 19, 2011

Education is part of the economic development equation

The focus of the strategic plan for Goochland economic development will be the Tuckahoe Creek Service District and the Interstate 64 interchanges.
This is a sensible approach. The county’s most developable land, already served by public utilities and with good road access, is where major commercial and mixed use development should happen in the near term.

However, landing a corporate headquarters for West Creek, or some industrial companies in the Ashland Road corridor is only part of the task.
Creating an environment where business and citizens help each other grow and thrive is a more global and complicated undertaking.

Quality of local educational opportunity is an important element of overall community strength.

Both the supervisors and school board have been rudely awakened in the past year or so by the realization that the people who moved to Goochland in the past few years are educated, affluent and quite capable of organizing to express their displeasure with elected officials.

For decades, affluent residents of the county pretty much huddled in the River Road corridor and had little interest in county happenings. Their kids went to private schools to the east; their lives were lived in Richmond and all they wanted was low taxes and, on occasion, the services of a rescue squad or deputy.

New folks have moved in all over the county and are sending their kids to public schools. Many come from places where a half million dollar price tag on a house includes the expectation of good public schools.
We were meeting those expectations until the budget cuts resulting from plummeting property values pulled the rug out from under all county services.

A change in school superintendents didn’t help matters.
This fall’s local elections, which are likely to bring many new faces to the school board, are just the start of needed changes. Whoever the voters choose to be supervisors or school board members will face a formidable task next January.

In addition to finding a way to service the debt on the TCSD, they will need to craft strategies to adequately fund all county services.
This will be a tricky balancing act, because the economic development needed to fund these services will not materialize without those services.

Good schools are necessary for a healthy community. This means a universal acknowledgement that good schools cost money and must be funded. The real point of contention is how much is enough for schools and who foots the bill.

Parents of school children believe that everyone should pay higher taxes so that their kids can have the best education on the planet. People on fixed incomes don’t want their taxes raised. Others question why schools cost so much more than they used to and why do kids need sports, are, robotics, etc.

Those of us blessed with good public educations need to think twice before we snarl about the cost of schools. Those who make decisions on behalf of the school system must ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely. What we do not need more of is a superintendent figuratively waving her PhD and declaring that she knows better than anyone else how to allocate school funding.

Somehow, our elected officials need to answer these questions and create consensus among taxpayers. We need to be convinced that huge amounts of money dedicated to our local schools are necessary. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Greater transparency on the part of the schools coupled with wider community involvement is needed to bring this about.

While a college degree is a worthy goal, there should be other options for Goochland students so all GHS graduates are ready to succeed at the next level be it college, the military or the world of work.

The Western, soon to be Goochland, campus of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, must also be part of an economic development strategy.
J. Sarge is a quiet placeholder in Courthouse Village. It is a good neighbor offering its grounds for tiny soccer players and hosting local events.

For some reason, J. Sarge does little to promote its presence or course offerings. We are vaguely aware of its interface with Goochland High School that enables students to get a leg up on college courses. Some of us take advantage of its internet access or perhaps even taken some horticulture classes there.
At the very least, a link to courses offered at J. Sarge in Goochland should be on the county website and perhaps on bookmarks at the library or even on an insert in tax bills to make it easier to find them.

Right now, accessing the J. Sarge catalog online is difficult. Paper catalogs are expensive to prepare and often outdated before the ink is dry. Better electronic promotion is needed.

If enrollment is down, or never was strong, perhaps that is because courses that would interest area residents aren’t offered. Has J. Sarge ever made an effort to see what kind of courses resident of Goochland, Louisa and Powhatan might like to see offered?

Partnering with J. Sarge to offer company specific training could help to lure new businesses to Goochland. It would also provide students and perhaps funding for the college.

The disconnect among the various segments of our community has created a dysfunction that repels rather than attracts new commerce.

Economic development is far more than hiring a salesman to schmooze big companies into locating a plant or office building in the county. Everyone needs to be on board or the ship will sink. Right now Goochland is listing.

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