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David Hall, a member of the Taylor County School Board, submitted the following as a letter to the editor. Hall wasn’t available for comment for a story about the Tuesday, Feb. 8 Board meeting before press time. Superintendent Roger Cook’s response is included below.
I didn't lose my voice, but I hadn't found it effective in persuasion inside the executive session as was evidenced by the final 4 to 1 public vote to purchase land at the last Taylor County School Board meeting.
Nevertheless, I want to apologize for the perception that I wasn't available for comment. I would also like to take this belated opportunity to explain my vote.
My vote that night was not made in certainty of knowledge but rather in the vacuum of its absence. More than 2,000 years ago Sophocles said, "Quick decisions are poor decisions." About a week ago, I said the same thing.
In less time than it takes a Sunday coupon cutter to peruse the grocery circulars, our elected body made a decision to accept an already negotiated proposal to buy new and trade existing properties that when all is said and done will represent a deal in excess of $2 million. I knew then that questions would arise; they have and so they should continue.
I must question why as a board member I found out under the cloak of an executive meeting that negotiations with landowners were undertaken not by an anonymous party but the most high profile school official.
The architect firm, representatives from the state and apparently a host of others had viewed the land previously. Other properties were eliminated from consideration and, of course, we were advised that all other options were eliminated.
Apparently we as a body serve little purpose as it relates to ideas, suggestions or deliberation as it relates to many matters including this land acquisition.
A contract had already been drawn up; it was presented to the board; it was even presumptively dated to be executed after our public vote. The shield of this closed meeting clause is to afford the board the opportunity to authorize and proceed anonymously in these matters over time in a deliberate course of action as an individual would make a purchase for themselves negotiating to save taxpayers money. It serves no purpose to a body willing to rubberstamp any done deal presented to them without their directive.
I am perplexed that our current property reflects the crushing market reality of having reduced in value like so many other homes and farms since it was purchased, although it is still located beside an exclusive residential development. However, the new property alternatively benefits from the same premise even from across the road while it at once overlooks and perhaps is downwind from the city's sewage ponds.
I know Mike Reynolds. I don't mean to cast any shadows of doubt on a good man. I know him to be an honest, hardworking man deserving his rewards for years of invested labor. For me, this is not about him, however. It is about us as a Board and as a community.
Is there not a line too far? A point where good intentions go awry and lead to bungled aspirations? How do wishes become waste or opulence turn obscene? When the last brick is laid and the last brush is dry, how will we leave our children? Better prepared from the process or poorer and saddled with the excess?
Taylor County Superintendent Roger Cook had this response:
Several factors led to the Board's recent decision to seek new, larger properties for Taylor County Schools.
The decision to look for another piece of property initially came after the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet informed us that we would have to widen and add turning lanes to Eastport Road, add turning lanes to U.S. 68 and relocate current utilities at our expense. The cost of doing so is estimated at between $800,000 and $1 million.
After a recent site visit to the Eastport Road property, the Kentucky Department of Education has concluded that it is also not accessible enough. The proximity of privately owned homes and Eastport Church of God to our property will limit us to only one entry/exit point to the proposed campus. Should the Board continue with its Eastport Road plans, it will be required to purchase additional land to give us some more right of way and room for additional entry/exit points. There are currently 10 homeowners on Eastport Road, and I am sure they would not be happy with the "eminent domain" of their front yards. When this information was brought to my attention, I realized that we will have up to $2 million in our currently owned property before site preparation.
Ultimately, it becomes less costly to seek another site.
I am in disagreement with Mr. Hall's assertions that things were done in haste after consulting with the Kentucky Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Department of Education. I also received advice of architects and engineers. It should be noted that seven different property owners were contacted to see if they would be willing to sell property for a new school. Several of them would have been willing to sell, but all of them would have been in or around the same amount of money.
Furthermore, all Kentucky superintendents are the acting agents for their boards of education. How is it even possible, then, to remain anonymous when you are trying to purchase property? Mr. Hall received the information when all Board members received it - in an executive session, which followed law. For me to have dealt with Board members individually or in a group would have constituted an illegal board meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain an option to purchase property, NOT to purchase property. No purchasing of property can take place until many other hurdles are cleared with KDE.
As far as downwind from the sewer plant is concerned, that one is a stretch since I don't hear anyone from Forest Hills or Pinnacle Point complaining about the sewer plant being close. A close sewage plant could possibly save us some money.
Simply put, do we want 100 acres for more than $2 million after site preparation, road and utility work? Or 120 acres for $2 million with very little site preparation? Do we want future projects located in a prominent location with user-friendly roads on KY 210? Or built on a small county road that cannot even be seen?
Sophocles also wrote: "Men of ill judgment oft ignore the good that lies within their hands, till they have lost it."
Case in point: Oldham County just purchased property for a new school last week and gave $55,000 per acre. One hundred acres cost them $5.5 million. So, it sounds like we were given a fair price.
Twenty years down the road, the purchase of the KY 210 property is not going to sound like a lot of money, and we have to look down the road much further than that. This first step of site location is one that has to be done right now, per state regulations, before making any decisions about future facilities.