By Steve Frey
Community. It’s a word that means a lot of different things to different people. In Radford, it defines the city.
Right now, the Bobcat boys’ basketball team is undefeated. Radford University’s men’s and women’s teams are in first place in the Big South with hopes to participate in March Madness again this year. However, this is only part of the Radford community. Sports gatherings and celebrations are important, but there is so much more.
For example, Belle Heth has instituted a House system to encourage teamwork and build a greater sense of community. The Radford Farmers’ Market (Radford Roots) is a gathering place that could probably be called the Radford Community Market. People meet to enjoy the Fiddle and Banjo Jam at the Radford Coffee Company. McHarg reads and discusses books together as a school. Senior citizens and Radfordites of all ages gather for activities at the recreation center. The secondary schools are developing a new schedule so students can better work together, meet with teachers, participate in activities and socialize.
Memorial Day, Glencoe, the Radford Library, churches, the Highlanders Festival, parades, Walk to Freedom: The Mary Ingles Story, RU, the Fourth of July—the list of places, events, and activities that draw people together in Radford is endless.
But the city has a difficult decision to make—as a community. Will it fund its schools and provide the facilities and staff salaries necessary to keep them competitive with not just the NRV, but the state and country? Will the city make a commitment to the children and staff to provide a 21st-century education?
The reason this is a difficult decision is that it will require raising taxes. Nobody wants to raise taxes. Let that sink in—nobody finds joy in raising taxes.
However, opposition to raising taxes will become a rallying cry for some in future elections. “Vote for me because I will never raise your taxes like that current school board and city council,” some will exclaim. “See, you knew they were going to raise your taxes,” others will shout.
Yes, some will forget all about the needs of the children, teachers or community and focus only on political gain. That and depleting the reserves may be primary reasons why the city council has not raised property taxes in nine years.
Again, nobody gets excited about raising taxes, but many in Radford have reached the conclusion that that time has come. Citizens spoke out at the joint city council-school board work session last Monday.
Many talked about the excellent education students receive in Radford. Others stated that they were willing to pay more in taxes to make sure their children received that education. They said the superior schools are why they live here. People who don’t have children in the schools anymore said they wanted children to have an excellent education because that is what builds a great community.
They want first-rate, 21st-century buildings and caring, knowledgeable staff to prepare students for new-economy jobs. They want children to stay in Radford, raise families and grow with the city.
So the decision is hard, but necessary: Radford must find ways to fund its schools. It may mean raising property taxes. It may mean increasing the hotel room tax. It may mean funding bonds. It may involve a combination of different revenue sources. The city council will be getting advice at its next meeting on how to best find and provide those funds.
Community. What kind of community do you want? Do you want to wait until boilers from the 1960s fail entirely and then react as the school system has had to do to replace old, unsafe stadium lights? Do you want to watch school divisions in surrounding areas continue to improve facilities and provide the best education possible for their children while Radford falls behind? If you don’t care enough to pay for a decent education for our children, you will probably lead the anti-tax charge once again.
However, if you want science labs with running water; locker rooms that can be used; elementary schools with a gym so that physical education isn’t severely limited for two hours every day; 21st-century learning spaces in contrast to 1960s-era classroom designs; schools without closet classrooms. The list is much longer. If you want those things for the community and its children, then you will support the school board and city council in funding the schools adequately and, by doing so, strengthen the community.
This is not the time for partisan potshots. It is an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and, as a community, take responsibility for improving our schools to keep Radford one of the best systems in the state. It is time to fund the education of our children appropriately.
Yes, the needs are significant and the challenges are difficult, but that is what makes our city, state and country great: Finding the courage to make difficult decisions, so that we can advance.
Members of the school board and city council understand, care and are moving forward. We must all be willing to attend to the needs of our children, schools and community in equal measure.
Let’s choose to fund education; let’s choose to support our children.
Radford, let’s choose to build our community.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.