Revote Needed on High School

photo credit: Olivia Comer

The recent decision by City Council to delay funding a new high school by two years is unacceptable for Harrisonburg’s students. Ensuring the quality of education of children all across our great city is crucial for their prosperous growth and development into successful and productive citizens.  

The only public high school in Harrisonburg is at least 32% over capacity. Students take secondary stairs to avoid jammed hallways during passing periods, activity and athletic teams travel two hours one way to compete against schools of similar sizes, and its parking lot is raining classroom trailers costing hundreds of thousands of the city’s dollars. For example, the addition of six new trailers (to the already existing nine) will cost the city approximately $300,000 to install. This cost is in addition to trailer leasing fees, including a bathroom trailer for $25,000 a year. 

Over the years, Dr. Kizner, School Board members and the community have been speaking openly to the issue of overcrowding in multiple forums. Meanwhile, pressure from outside interests, including Students Over Structures (SOS), have tried to influence the city’s decision.

SOS disguises the fact that outside interests are orchestrating the anti-school campaign by creatively funding it through multiple limited liability corporations. 

Exposing some myths about the SOS opposition group may help City Council defend its children from a group reluctant to see a decrease in their city-derived profits, as they have publicly stated themselves. The city’s children are not their market.  

Myth #1: SOS states that it is composed of “individuals,” when in fact, it is a registered political action committee, receiving $19,950 in contributions from six corporations, some of whom are not headquartered or controlled by city residents. 

Myth #2: SOS takes “pride in not being a particular political party.”  In truth, according to its public records, the only two paid individuals are both intricately tied to the Republican party: Cole Trower, who worked for Representative Bob Goodlatte, was paid $4,000 and another $6,300 was paid to “Free Market Solutions” at the same Norfolk mailing address as Mr. Trower. SOS also paid $500 to Jacob Neff, of the Bridgewater College Republicans. In addition, Greg Coffman, Harrisonburg Republican Committee Chair, has given multiple media interviews opposing a new school. In a parallel anti-school effort, the Republican Party paid for ads disparaging a new city high school.  

Myth #3: SOS claims that it is “a diverse group of individuals of all races.”  This is simply not the case. The SOS financial contributors and public spokespersons simply do not reflect the ethnicity of HHS. 

HHS overcrowding has been here for several years, and not pending in some gauzy future. 

The decision to delay funding a new high school by two years is poor stewardship of our resident’s money as it may ultimately cost an additional $7 million depending on inflation, and projected increases in labor and material costs.  Combined with the interim band-aid solutions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to alleviate the current overcrowding situation, the decision is neither fiscally responsible nor logistically plausible. 

I strongly encourage Harrisonburg City Council to vote again to build a new high school by 2021.    

Ken Rutherford is a Harrisonburg High School parent.

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