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Fiscal Responsibility: Pay for Educational Excellence

In the Centre Daily Times today (after 11/4, link requires subscription), I noticed a central theme that appears in the answers the State College Vision slate of candidates gave to the question: What would your priorities be if elected to the office you are seeking?

They all emphasize that the new District Wide Master Plan will be a priority and that community input and fiscal responsibility will inform all decisions concerning the plan.

On the face of it, these seem to be worthy and laudable priorities. However, a deeper look into what these priorities mean for these candidates in this context suggest less noble forces at work.

For these candidates, fiscal responsibility seems to mean minimizing the community’s tax liability for our schools. Barney Grimes puts it this way:

We must also provide “the most bang for the buck” with taxpayers’ resources. The expenditure of funds should be based upon fully transparent, established and mutually agreed upon priorities.

Ann McGlaughlin wants to put the question of what is most affordable to taxpayers on an equal footing with the educational and extracurricular needs of our children. One of her priorities is:

To update the district facilities master plan so that it not only supports a strategic plan for educational and extracurricular needs, but also prioritizes renovations in a manner that taxpayers can afford. To provide a disciplined, financial perspective to planning and policymaking, maintenance of the district’s financial health and common-sense stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources.

While affordability and the financial realities of the district must always be a factor in administrative decision-making, it should never be permitted to drive those decisions. Rather, the single most important question should always be: what needs to be done to ensure that our children receive the best education possible? Once that is determined, the community should be challenged to come up with the financial resources necessary to meet those educational needs.

Fiscal responsibility cannot mean minimizing our tax liability, but maximizing our investment in the educational needs of our children.

The community should be prepared to pay whatever it costs to ensure that we have state-of-the-art facilities, superior teachers, an innovative and demanding curriculum, and talented, conscientious administrators. There is no more important financial commitment a community can make to its future.

My concern with the emphasis the State College Vision candidates place on affordability and transparency is that their own candidacies have been funded largely by local developers who are less concerned with the educational needs of our children and more concerned with the financial needs of their businesses. I worry that the obsession with tax liability, when combined with the influence of local developers, will turn the noble goals of transparency and openness into an ignoble reality in which the superior financial resources of local developers will manipulate public opinion in such a way that business interest trumps educational need every time.

Because of these concerns, I intend to write-in James Leous and Robert Hendrickson on November 6th.

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