There is a bad storm brewing and beginning to break in Pennsylvania with our schools and educational system. The amount of money that will be required to meet current pension requirements will be crippling to many school districts. Allentown School District made the local news with their announced $21.5 million dollar deficit. Our own local districts are going to be facing similar perils that will just get worse if something is not done. The problem is when our taxes sky rocket who are the taxpayers going to blame? The brunt will focus on the school board.
What we all need to realize is the school boards comprised of volunteers who are not paid for the hours of time they spend contending with budgets, taxes, unfunded mandates and power crazy unions. These men and women volunteer to take the lumps to protect our interests as taxpayers. That being said and I know how busy these volunteers are, I think they need to rethink their approach to this issue.
All we have seen recently are school boards threatening to cut teachers, programs and activities. I think they should take a different tactic. I challenge the presidents of the school boards and the members of those bodies to take a more aggressive pro-active stance and educate your taxpayers. I have heard the complaints and have been on the other side of the table when people do not show up to meetings. To a degree that is because they have entrusted you and believe you are capable of watching out for them. That is too easy an excuse on your part to throw up your hands and say no one cares. I say evangelize to the tax payers and make them aware of the problems that are coming rather than wait to stick it to them in January.
Get out there and tell your constituents at their Lions Club meetings, their PTA meetings, their social clubs and wherever you can get an audience your side of the story. Tell the people before they blame you for skyrocketing taxes claiming you did not do anything. Write letters to the newspapers. Your solicitors are wrong if they tell you to remain silent. This is the information age. If you don't provide it, someone will spin it to make you look like the bad guys. This is important. You cannot sit in meetings on your hands and do nothing because you think no one cares. I am willing to bet that all of you, Lehighton, Panther Valley, Tamaqua and Jim Thorpe school board members would find willing audiences if you take the time. You are the leaders. You need to go to the people. Unfortunately that's the way the world is.
And when you are out there tell your taxpayers to put the pressure where it belongs and lead them. One problem is the union which is unrealistic in its demands for fully paid pensions and benefits. No one in the "real world" has these luxuries any more. In fact, maybe the teachers' unions should take their union dues and put them somewhere that makes a difference like in their members' pension funds instead of in politicians' campaigns. In the real world, we have to put money toward our own pensions and we have to pay for our own benefits and most of us have deductibles some which are quite sizable. This is ridiculous to put on the backs of the taxpayers.
The other problem is with the state and Federal government who have no problem creating mountains of regulations that require funding and then not providing money to enforce them. To add insult to injury they threaten to withhold the decreasing dollars they do provide if the local schools don't fall in lockstep with them. State funding used to be at 50 percent. Now it's barely 30 percent. Special education costs are out of control and if we were took take a close look at where that money goes, well that would be enough to fill a newspaper on its own.
In addition, I think that any system that relies on children to determine funding levels is stupid and the lawmakers that believed that to be a good idea should be fired. Would you ask your son or daughter to pay your bills yet we rely on their test taking for funding? Can you say stupid?
The system is broken, but we taxpayers are yelling at the wrong people. Your ire should be focused at the unions and legislators not the school boards. But in the same respect the school boards need to do a better public relations job to explain what in the hell is going on, because frankly griping about the lack of public attendance at committee meetings and board meetings does not cut it right now. Get out there in front before you find yourselves behind the eight ball.