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Friday, July 18, 2008

A Case for a High School on Marco Island

The most recent idea being contemplated by the Marco Island intelligentsia is to place an array of electricity-generating solar panels on Track K. While this notion is arguably better than the previous suggestions to either commercialize the property (read: build a strip mall) or giving it to the school district so they can sell it (basically the same as the strip mall idea but with a middleman), perhaps those with the best of intentions for this community should consider the ramifications of the contemporary options.

There is no argument that we should do everything we can to be energy efficient, especially from clean sources such as solar power. However, the cost-benefit ratio of today's technology for this particular clean source of energy is not viable.

As proof, consider the analyses of both the state of Florida and certified commercial solar installation dealers. The price to install an array of solar panels on an average home is $20,000. If you act quickly, you can apply for a rebate from the state of Florida that may amount to $10,000. The federal government kicks in another rebate of $2,000 (if you qualify). The average savings in electricity charges to the average home is $25-$50 per month.i Best case, your payback – assuming zero maintenance costs and no time-value of money – is 160 months – 13.3 years.

Though commercial installations are considerably more expensive, they are of near identical fiscal investment-returns.

It can be argued that we should not even consider the monetary implications of using solar, wind, or other clean/renewable energy sources since they do us all good. Fair enough. But the reality is that with very few exceptions, municipalities and citizens alike make the affordability argument of paramount importance in the decision process. Namely, if it's not affordable, then it won't get done. Hence the dearth of solar panels on structures throughout this country.

But more importantly, should we even consider trading questionable energy gains for what is the unquestionable need for quality education in American society? Or have the trillions of arguably misspent dollars on public education jaded the citizenry to respond as if watching a Steven King movie whenever the Kafkaesque term "public schools" is uttered?

For those with such an aversion, consider for just a moment the benefits from having on Marco Island a high school for exceptional education:

  • Consider that over $50,000,000 departs this island annually in the form of taxes for the purpose of public education. Assuredly, the public non-high schools on the island don't consume a fraction of that money – just ask any teacher.
  • Consider the fact that Track K was specifically earmarked for such an undertaking.
  • Consider that a premier high school is a local economic bonanza as graduating middle school families don't flee, non-resident families will migrate to the island, and many people into residency due to the employment required by such a school.
  • Consider the wealth of auxiliary support and employment to the scores of senior citizens that have so much to offer – war veterans, retired professionals and teachers to name but a few. Further, what an extraordinary learning environment for our children to be tutored, mentored, and to otherwise experience first hand these remarkable people and their history.
  • Consider that a top-grade high school offers community and continuing education – exceedingly important activities for senior residents.
  • Consider that a premier high school will create stability for the local economy as it moves away from the present binary but oddly symbiotically unary source.
  • Consider that the argument for a teen-center/youth-center is accentuated for a high school – what better teen center than a high school?
  • Consider that the present option for our children and grandchildren is a "D" rated school … that's a "D" rated school in a bunch of schools that collectively make Florida rank 48th out of the 50 states … the 50 states that collectively make the United States pre-college schools rank 18th out of 24 industrialized countries.ii
  • Consider that FGCU would be enthralled to have a quality feeder program – one that they can support both academically and monetarily.

Perhaps a city leader can charter a blue ribbon commission to explore the options for establishing such an exceptional high school on Marco Island. The commission should be comprised of both supporters and detractors of this idea. Perhaps Councilor Recker can spearhead this endeavor given his public support for a high school during the recent campaign.

The obstacles in bringing a public high school for exceptional education is both the reluctance/apathy by the residents of Marco Island, and the understandable reluctance in having to deal with the Collier County School District. For anyone that has been even remotely aware of the latter's tribulations knows the extent to which that body is intellectually, fiscally and managerially challenged. As to the former, an honest public information campaign in conjunction with the panel will assuage many if not all of the residents' concerns while motivating them to support this initiative.

"If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it."iii It is the responsibility of each citizen partaking in this great democracy to be informed, to be intimately aware of the issues faced, and hence to be educated. It is also our duty to provide the means by which the young of our society have the opportunity to learn, for they must be extraordinarily prepared to soon earn the stewardship of this great experiment.

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i. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Solar Energy Systems Incentive Program.
ii. UNICEF 2005 study.
iii. Thomas Jefferson, 1818.

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