A baffling decision

Published 9:58 pm Monday, January 28, 2019

When making any big decision — particularly one that could save local taxpayers many millions of dollars — it’s best for the decision-makers to have all of the available information at hand.

That’s why it’s so confounding that the School Board recently voted against even receiving up-to-date information straight from the source about an energy performance contract proposal that has been under discussion for several years.

Energy performance contracting is a state-sponsored program through which government entities, like cities and school divisions, can seek estimates on energy-saving improvements to their facilities. Such improvements can include upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, lighting and water fixtures and more.

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Once the contract is complete, the company that performs the upgrades guarantees that the improvements will pay for themselves in energy savings. If they don’t, the company strokes a check for the difference.

It sounds simple. But in Suffolk, it has been far too complicated.

The program was successful at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, so Councilman Mike Duman, who sat on the jail board, pushed to have the city and school division look into doing an energy performance contract jointly.

After many meetings and much hemming and hawing in a now-defunct committee, an $8 million proposal was finally put forward. But the question then became a matter of debt. Saying that they did not believe the city would support the debt, the School Board voted last April to cease pursuing the contract.

Earlier this month, School Board member David Mitnick — the only member left who supported pursuing the contract last year — brought up the topic again. He said Trane, the company with which the division had been working on the project, wanted to see if there was any interest in pursuing it, presumably hoping that four new people on the School Board would mean some new perspectives.

As it turns out, however, it’s more of the same on the School Board.

Four members voted not to even receive an informational presentation on the topic. Chair Phyllis Byrum and Vice Chair Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck were two of them. They were joined by two new members, Karen Jenkins and Lorita Mayo, who surely could have benefited from getting some background on this important project.

A lot can change in almost a year, and we believe everyone on the School Board should have at least been open to hearing an update on this topic, if not for themselves then for the benefit of their new colleagues.

That they were not willing to avail themselves of all available information speaks volumes about how receptive this School Board will be to new ideas. In this 21st-century world of education, Suffolk needs them to do better.