From the Editor’s Desk: Better schools don’t just benefit families

Published 1:00 am Monday, February 12, 2024

The man was more than a little irritated. After we published my story about the Prince Edward sales tax bill making it through the State Senate, he went over an email, wondering why this was a good thing. He didn’t have any kids or grandkids in the school system and had no desire for his tax dollars to go to better schools or school renovations. 

“What good does that do me?” he asked. “I won’t see any benefits from this, so why should I pay for it?” 

First off, let’s explain what he was upset about. SB146 is a bill that Prince Edward County has been trying to pass through the General Assembly for years. The request is to raise Prince Edward’s sales tax by 1%. In Virginia, a city or county has to first get permission from the General Assembly, then citizens have to vote on the concept before it can happen. Previous Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett floated the idea in 2019.

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In 2021, 2022 and 2023, supervisors pushed to get a bill filed and approved in the Assembly, but each time it died. The money would be earmarked to help cover renovation costs at Prince Edward Elementary. The current agreement, which county supervisors agreed to last August, stands at $43.3 million. Money from the sales tax increase would help pay the yearly debt service on the project. 

A conversation about better schools

Now that we’ve mentioned the bill, let’s talk about what the man said. When I responded, I asked what he wants to see in this area. He wants more restaurants, his wife wants more shopping options and he wants lower taxes. 

Well, I said, getting the elementary school renovated is a good step toward all three. Now before anyone gets up in arms, let me explain. Better schools don’t just benefit current families. It’s like a puzzle that fits together. Better schools attract more families to an area. More families attract more businesses. And having more businesses in the region increases tax revenue, making it easier to keep property tax low. That’s the cut and dried version. 

I’ve spent time in big cities and small towns, I’ve talked to large corporations and smaller chain store owners. I can tell you they look at the number of people in an area, as I’ve mentioned before, and they look at the schools. You see, a company doesn’t just move in and plan for the present. They’re looking at schools and weighing the potential for future employees. You want manufacturers or some other kind of big business? You need to make the place attractive to them and to their current and potential future workers. 

And let’s be honest here. Yes, the teachers and staff at Prince Edward Elementary do everything humanly possible to help their students succeed. If not for the chronic absenteeism issues, the school would have once again been above state standards for last year, as they excelled in most testing. But try selling a family on moving in here with the current structure in place. Try convincing a company that this is where they want to do business, with an elementary school where in some areas the mold is so bad you can’t use the room at all. 

That’s the same story when the county pays for road repair or to fix water and sewer infrastructure. You may not use any of the things, but you’ll benefit from the problems being fixed. Every hole in the pavement, every busted water pipe or damaged sewer main makes it that much harder to bring people in and achieve all of the things many of you have said you wanted to see here. 

And let’s be very clear. For those who don’t want more people to come, that’s fine, but then don’t expect more restaurants or shops. And you can definitely say goodbye to lower property taxes, without more residents and more shops to balance out the tax burden. 

At times on the surface, it may not seem like some decisions benefit us. But when you look further on, the benefits are there. 

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@ FarmvilleHerald.com.