Local Commentary

Editorial: The New ‘Bricks & Mortar’

For those on the Falls Church City Council who aren’t simply opposed to the role of the city’s School Board on principle – there may be one or two – it is possible that a failure to understand the future direction of education on this planet has been a stumbling block to granting $500,000 of what has now ballooned to over a $15 million fund balance sitting in the City’s bank account for some badly and urgently needed computer upgrades for students in the City’s school system.

The crux of the matter centers on the semantics used to differentiate uses and functions of the School system within its annual budget.

Taken from the standpoint of where education is heading, the current, seemingly-unmovable distinction between so-called “operating” and “capital improvement” costs is shifting, and already highly archaic.

It was the argument of some on the Council that the $500,000 request should not be granted, since the money would come out of the $3 million surplus generated over the course of the fiscal year that ended June 30. Surplus, or “one time,” money, as a matter of policy, they argued, should not be used to fund “operational” costs, since that only adds to expectations and needs in follow-on budgets. On the other hand, “one time money” should be limited to “one time costs,” such as the construction of a new school building.

It’s a plausible argument, and an prudent approach common to sound budgeting. But in this case, the ground has shifted under the categories, themselves.

The “bricks and mortar” of tomorrow for education is no longer confined to buildings and classrooms. As the dimensions and capacities of the electronic, computer and online revolutions create continuously-new demands for educational methods and offerings, the highest-priority capital investments by school systems of the future – and already, in fact – will be those pesky computers!

Computers have half-lives, it is true, but so to buildings. Buildings also require maintenance and repair. So the difference between old fashioned definitions of capital projects and computer-age ones is not really so hard to grasp.

It’s just that old ways of thinking have to give way to new ones. We in the newspaper business know this too well. Those big urban daily newspapers that are struggling the most are burdened with traditional capital improvement debt, such as for printing presses and large campuses to house them. It is nimbler approaches, such as contracting for press services, that are required in our business now. They also allow for shifts to newer and more efficient printing technologies with minimal difficultly.

Old fashioned office spaces are also not nearly the priority they were in the past, as contributors can work off their laptops or iPads from home or a nearby coffee shop if space is tight at headquarters.

Staying technologically current is our top priority, and so should it be for our public schools.