Editorial 12/03: School Boards Face Many Tough Decisions
These are difficult times for volunteers who serve as elected officials to the Board(s) of Education in Scotch Plains, Fanwood and Westfield. Its a difficult time for the taxpayers too. Theyre tussling with important and emotional issues, the education of our children and the costs. Neighbors and colleagues with differing views become frustrated with each other. Its no wonder its difficult to find citizens willing to seek election to these offices. Those that serve are to be commended.
In Scotch Plains-Fanwood, the BOE and the Teachers Union (SPFEA) have not been able to agree on a salary contract for the last two years. Job actions have occurred, and 200 teachers attended the last public meetingonNovember24. Both sides are exasperated. We hope Superintendent Dr. Carol B. Choye, the SP-F BOE and the SPFEA can resolve this soon and amicably with acceptable compromise to all, including the public.
In Westfield, an $11.7 million bond referendum for capital improvements is being presented to the voters on Tuesday, December 15. A substantial lobbying and media campaign has been initiated by the board and the administration to get it passed to avoid the experience of 1994 when the public rejected a $7.6 million bond referendum. Many parents of school age children ardently support the bond referendum. Some of those without children in school are taking a hard look at the proposal.
And for each competing group, expectations have never been greater for achieving gain for their particular cause or interest. When it comes to paying for everything, the issues have never been closer to home; since it mostly comes from property taxes. It doesnt come from state or federal aid in our region because were considered to be wealthy.
Before matters become worse, we need to stop and think. Why is this happening? Are we caught up by todays age where everything is measured in money? Is this discourse heightened by the spin capabilities of the new communication age? Is it the changing demographics where younger people have different goals, urgencies and values from those of our older citizens? Is time moving so fast that were impatient and frustrated? Well, whatever it is, wed better find a way to achieve accommodation; to deliberate gracefully, to engage in critical thinking, to be tolerant of dissenting opinion and to maintain integrity in our means.
The situation has become stressful and many are afraid to publicly express dissenting or differing views as the organized advocates in our towns are so impassioned. Bob Flast of Westfield has been writing his views that disagree with the proposed bond referendum, and hes being sharply criticized. Right or wrong, he should be respected for being willing to put his name on it. In contrast, several other people come into our offices with information and dissenting views. But, the first thing they say is "dont quote me on this."
Also, it is disconcerting to this newspaper that spin is being placed on information, and that there is a lack of concern or awareness by the public of the details. As an example, its being advertised to Westfielders on the local access TV station, on the Internet and in handout sent home with children from school that the tax impact of the proposed bond to property owners will only be $18 per year through 2001, then $56 per year in 2003. How does this add up when a simple calculation at 5 percent interest for 20 years with10,000 residences shows the property tax impact of the referendum to be between about $100 and $120 per year? The complete answer requires you to know that school bond debt from 1986 will be paid off in a few years. Rather than property owners receiving a tax reduction from that, the existing debt payments are planned to be continued to offset the new debt payments. We thank Dr. William J. Foley, the Superintendent of Westfield Public Schools, as he has offered to provide the complete details of this for publication to our readers next week; which we will do.
So, can we as a society discuss matters of disagreement to arrive at the best course of action without personal attacks? Isnt it a matter of free speech, fought for so ardently by our forefathers? And if we have government controlled TV stations and other media outlets, shouldnt we have an independent public media editorial review board? Remember that, as we act and do, so do our children learn.