The year was 1927. The world held its collective breath when Charles Lindbergh made the first successful nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York City to Paris, France. The flight took 33 hours, 30 minutes.
Al Jolson astounded audiences with “The Jazz Singer,” the first feature-length movie with synchronized sound.
The U.S. Congress settled on an annual operating budget of $2.86 billion and American inventor Philo T. Farnsworth demonstrates the first working television system he called the “dissector tube.”
America was still two years away from the collapse on Wall Street – and the Great Depression that followed, along with the debut of the Popeye the Sailor character.
And here in Clay County, Orange Park Elementary opened its doors for the first time.
Since then, a British Airways Concorde has made the transatlantic flight in as little as 52 minutes, 59 seconds.
Thousands of songs and hours of movies can be downloaded in seconds on a device smaller than a deck of cards. Even more impressive, it can all be stored in the “cloud,” whatever than means.
The U.S. government now pays more in three days of interest to foreign governments like China, Japan, Brazil, Ireland and the United Kingdom for loans than it did in 1927 ago to keep the country operating for an entire year.
Televisions have been flattened and transformed into electronic marvels capable of broadcasting more than 300 channels.
Classic Saturday morning cartoon characters have been replaced with Bevis and Butthead.
And Orange Park Elementary, which originally served as a school during the week and a movie theater on weekends, is still providing instruction to the most-impressionable minds in our society – our children.
While we can’t turn back time, we can look ahead. We can better celebrate the storied accomplishments of Orange Park Elementary – and the rest of the county’s schools – by supporting the School Board Referendum that would establish a restricted half-cent sales tax during the General Election.
Our schools need repairs. Portable classrooms are crumbling and taking up space once used for playgrounds. Air conditioners are being held together with piecemeal maintenances. Lunchroom and libraries are so small, some students are forced to eat lunch as early as 10 a.m.
As the county continues its extraordinary growth, there’s an inescapable fact new schools need to be built.
It’s not going to be cheap. Repairs are estimated to cost $318 million. New schools that need to be built in the next 10 years will cost another $300 million. You can pay a half-cent now or pay a lot more later.
An extra half-cent shouldn’t make a huge impact on a family’s budget. That’s one extra penny for a Happy Meal. Are we really going to miss $5 on a $1,000 purchase?
But what it means to the future of our schools and children is priceless.
“There are concerns here,” said Orange Park Elementary Principal Carole McCullough. “We are very old. We are in very much in need of a lot of work. We don’t want to mess with it unless we can really overhaul it.”
Orange Park isn’t the only school showing its age. Clay High is 84 years old. Middleburg Elementary is 82 years old. Green Cove Springs Junior High is 68 years old. Charles E. Bennett Elementary is 66, while Keystone Heights Elementary is 64 and Orange Park High is 62.
More than half of the district’s 51 public schools are 50 or older. It’s house of cards that’s dangerously close to collapsing.
“We aren’t asking for new carpet or new buildings,” McCullough said. “We need basic things. There are so many things here that are old and antiquated.”
McCullough, however, refuses to make the disintegrating infrastructure of her school as an excuse. Orange Park Elementary is rated seventh in Florida among 2,118 other elementary schools – and she’s proud to tell you.
“We’re getting it done academically,” she said.
Now it’s up to us to do our part. Including COVID-19 concerns, our educators are doing an incredible job under difficult circumstances. We can sit back, pinch pennies – literally – and watch our schools fall apart and we can watch our classrooms become so over-crowded it affects a child’s ability to learn.
Or we can do the right thing.
We can vote YES for the half-cent sales tax for Clay County schools.
Our county’s future depends on it.