EDITORIAL: With millions of dollars at stake, York Suburban having a healthy debate
Proceeding with caution, diligence and transparency.
That is the way government is supposed to work.
Unfortunately, all too often, that’s not the way things are done.
That’s why it was refreshing to hear about the discussion that is going on within the York Suburban School District right now.
Suburban is facing a growing enrollment and the school board is mulling several building projects to address that fact, but board members aren't sold on the price tags.
The board was not satisfied with five pricey options presented from a feasibility study, which ranged in cost from about $37.1 million to $90.2 million, based on conservative estimates.
To taxpayers, however, those numbers will hardly seem conservative. In fact, they seem downright exorbitant.
That’s why it’s encouraging that the board members don’t seem willing to docilely accept the results of the study and simply pass on the cost to district residents in the form of a tax increase.
Instead, they’re openly debating the best course of action for all of the district’s stakeholders — the students, the teachers and the taxpayers.
Teachers, not buildings, are most important: Even more encouraging, the board members seem to recognize that good teachers, not fancy facilities, are the single most important factor in providing our children with a quality education.
“Buildings don’t make our kids better, teachers do,” said board member Michael Thoman.
He said funding should be looked at in terms of additional faculty needed to support optimal class sizes.
Board member James Sanders agreed that faculty was a much better investment of taxpayer money.
"These shiny new buildings that we see popping up all around — go ask the taxpayers in those areas how much they like their tax increases right now versus what they're paying from an educational standpoint," he said.
Class-size discussion: If the enrollment projections are right, Suburban Superintendent Timothy Williams said the district would likely need at least 24 new teachers within the next five years to keep class sizes from increasing.
That would, of course, likely translate into a tax increase. In turn, that led to a discussion about the relationship between class size and educational results.
"It’s a bitter pill, but we've got to do it," said board Vice President Lois Ann Schroeder.
Not everyone agreed, however.
"(Classes with 25-30 students) were the class size guidelines back in the '50s and it worked," said board Treasurer Joel Sears.
Debate is healthy: Public debates such as the one that Suburban is having are extremely healthy, especially with millions of tax dollars at stake. The Suburban board members appear willing to disagree without being disagreeable.
Meanwhile, it’s vitally important that, as the debate continues, the public is kept informed about the possibilities. Public input should not only be welcome, but also encouraged. Again, the board members seem cognizant of that fact.
"I don’t want to wait too long before we start to get input from the public," said board member Ellen Freireich.
Moving cautiously: No decision seems imminent. The administrators are moving cautiously and diligently and plan to bring back updated recommendations at the next finance meeting in September.
The next order of business at Suburban should be to take another hard look at the projections of enrollment increases. The school board must be absolutely sure that those projections will come to fruition.
“Nothing would be more embarrassing than to borrow $40 million dollars and have K-3 enrollment drop,” said board President John Posenau.
At the moment, the Suburban school board appears to be proceeding with caution, diligence and transparency. We can only hope that will continue in the days, weeks and months to come.
The students, the teachers and the taxpayers deserve nothing less.