[Editor’s note: This is one of two guest editorials published to demonstrate the views on both sides of the $50 million school bond issue in Lakeland. See the other editorial here. Early voting on the issue will continue through April 11; the Referendum Day is April 16.]
I have been involved with Lakeland’s growth and development for almost 20 years now. First as a voluntary member of the Board of Appeals and then as an elected Com-missioner for the last 10 years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the vast majority of Lakeland residents wanted only a bedroom community and neither wanted or needed much commercial development. Lakeland’s revenue was being abundantly provided by strong residential growth. Citizens’ contentment was extremely high.
But Lakeland’s current and future situation was permanently altered by two factors over which we had absolutely no control. First, the economic crash beginning in 2007 led to a halt in both residential and commercial development throughout the country. There was no way to spare Lakeland from this impact and no way to foresee the length of this recession. Yes, it is easy to say now that in hindsight we should have considered alternative forms of revenue during that period. However, now Lakeland has developed a more tolerant acceptance of good commercial growth, which should provide more revenues for the future. But economics alone did not put us in our current state.
Secondly, the forced creation of individual municipal schools has created a tremendous demand for more revenue. No one in our city wanted or could have foreseen this happening.
The alternatives to our own school system are frightening. Allowing our youth to attend Shelby County schools would be an injustice to them and their families. And who would want to move to Lakeland under those circumstances, when the five other suburban cities will have much higher-rated schools? This would then lead to lowered property values. Anytime education is not at its best, the effect is felt throughout all aspects of our lives.
The other alternative of having the Lakeland youth attend Arlington schools does seem more compatible on the surface. But Arlington Schools are already becoming overcrowded, and Arlington students will always have priority over Lakeland students regarding availability. While relations with the current Arlington administration are most cordial, there is no assurance that this accord will continue with future administrations. = Consider that it takes almost 7 years for a new school to be fully operational (almost three years in planning /building and up to four years to phase in each grade individually). With so many unforeseen possibilities for the future, it is just not prudent to be dependent on outside forces when it comes to educating our children.
The great achievements in our past have always come about through individuals not accepting the status quo, but taking that well-informed leap of faith. Now so many of our citizens have accepted the challenge to develop a strong Lakeland School System. They have recognized that the backbone of any good community is its educational environment. Build something great and the people will come.
This entire community should join this education movement so that Lakeland will stand out as a shining beacon for its youth and for its future. I hope you will join me in voting YES on April 16th.
Guest editorial written by Randy Nicholson, a Lakeland commissioner. See his page on the city’s website for brief biographical information, a photo and contact information.