Since my last column there have been several notable events that pertain to the future of the City of Laurinburg. There was the very unfortunate announcement of the closing of the Mohawk plant in Laurel Hill, with the loss of 180 jobs. There was the publication of Jennifer Butler’s paper on Scotland County’s School Floor, which attempts to prove by statistical analysis that Scotland County is spending an extra $5.5 million dollars a year of taxpayer’s money on the schools without any measurable benefit. And lastly, since my last column, there was the celebration of father’s day, which always gets me to thinking of my father’s favorite saying to us kids growing up which was; ‘the rock you cling to is the rock you founder upon’.
For my father, that saying was profound. That if a person clings too long to what today seems secure and comfortable, the person will be left behind by the changing world, clinging to and ultimately foundering upon yesterday’s rock of security and comfort.
My father passed away years ago, but this saying that he liked so much, stays with me. It is a saying that, since I cannot pass it on to my children, because my wife and I don’t have any, I would like to pass along to our community.
The closing of the Mohawk plant is yet another nail in the coffin of ‘industry’ as a provider of meaningful employment for our community. Perhaps no similar community achieved quite the level of success in industrial recruitment that the previous generations here achieved and perhaps that is why we’ve fallen farther. Before I was Mayor, I watched incredulously, from afar, as our community leaders promised to ‘get some industry in here’ to stop the bleeding. The prior twenty years of largely fruitless industrial recruitment did not seem to faze these ‘leaders’. Not knowing them personally, I was not sure if they actually believed they could get industry to come here or they really knew the hopelessness of it but just thought it best to tell the people what they thought the people wanted to hear. Now that I know many of these leaders, I can tell you the answer is that leaders in this community still, incredibly, believe that getting industry in here should be the main thrust of economic development, seemingly willfully ignoring the fact that in the past 20 years the only industry of over 25 jobs (other than FCC) that has come, came(with very few jobs) because we gave them a multimillion dollar industrial plant essentially for free (and we don’t have any more of those to give away). Ideas such as revitalizing downtown and building a state-of-the-art community center so we can compete as a healthy, attractive community to live and retire, building an upscale young retiree development adjacent to St Andrews/Scotia Village, improving the business off Highway 74, beautifying the city of Laurinburg to help it grow, recruiting retail to make Laurinburg the commercial hub of the surrounding area, meaningfully lowering the taxes, gradually redirecting some money from the schools and law enforcement to pay for these things- these ideas are scoffed at, these ideas are dismissed as unimportant, these ideas are silly wishful thinking. And so we cling to the ways of old and so we founder.
Ms Butler’s report on the school floor funding formula is more of the same thing. The reality of school funding in 1963, when the school floor funding formula was put in place, is very different than today’s reality of school funding. Previous generations here saw the need to ensure a certain basic level of school funding, and rightfully so. Nowadays however, due to changes over the past 50 years in how schools are funded, the ‘school floor ’causes us to have to fund the schools by several million dollars a year more than is required to satisfy the original purpose of the 1963 law(and the recent state cutbacks do not alter this fact). And, even worse, according to this recent study, these extra millions of dollars are not producing any important measureable benefit in student outcomes. And so we cling to the ways of old and so we founder.
Which brings me to the end of things for us. It has been a pleasure and an honor for my wife and me to have served as your Mayor and First Lady these past four years. We wish nothing but the best for Laurinburg and hope that the city and all of its residents prosper in the years ahead.