On Monday, the Butler Area School Directors will vote on a millage increase. If asked, like most property owners, I do not want to pay more taxes. But that is not the question being asked.
Butler School District has one of the lowest per child costs in Pennsylvania, despite being one of the largest districts. Even with the proposed millage increase, Butler cannot replace any of the retiring teachers, elementary class sizes are increasing to 25 when the maximum class size recommended is 18, computer instructors, music, art and physical education programs are being reduced or eliminated and athletic programs are being impacted.
The real question for the board is whether to vote no to this small increase and devastate the district or to increase taxes nominally to continue an already skeletal version of education. Based on that question the vote should be easy.
I have heard the arguments of those directors voting no, Mr. Keffalas, Mr. Halle and Ms. Callihan, and while I appreciate their opposing views, I am asking all residents of Butler to contact them and urge them to change their vote for the following reasons.
First, I agree that it is not fair that the local taxpayers have to bear the burden, but at least for this next vote, what is the option? In 2011-2012 the state legislature stripped public education of $245 million, but in the same year increased their own operating budget, refused to put any tax burden on the oil and gas companies currently making a giant profit off the very real estate we are struggling to pay taxes on, and refused to require cyber schools to bill districts only what they pay per student, instead subsidizing them by requiring the districts to pay this cost without any control over the cost. This and subsequent state legislative budget actions are the cause for the funding problems. It is not the board causing the increase, but our state government’s refusal to prioritize education over individual interests.
Second, yes, the cost of teacher pensions is significant and must change, but school boards are powerless to change it. The change must come at the state level. The public is largely unaware teachers’ pensions are virtually identical to the plan in which our state legislature participates, one of the most expensive and largest governing bodies in the country, a body that did nothing to reduce their own pensions, expense accounts or even their numbers at the same time they put districts in the position to have to eliminate teachers to survive.
Third, yes, we must be efficient and do long-range planning. But long-range planning means assessing needs of students and planning accordingly, not having secondary school lectures of 300 children instead of classrooms and teaching children language through DVDs. Education is more than books. Schools provide the environment in which children learn social and communication skills, values and behaviors to achieve success. And while it should not be the responsibility of schools to teach these skills, that is the reality. We can’t just dispose of children who have difficulties at home and say it is not our problem. Many of these children have incredible potential, potential lost but for the guidance of qualified educators.
Finally, for those of you who support these or any other arguments opposing this increase at this critical time, I beg you to spend a day observing children in the classroom. Before you advocate to take money away from our school district, find out how the money is actually spent. It is easy for us all to be backseat drivers, but you don’t get to criticize if you won’t even get in the car.
Please consider contacting your board members to offer your support for this small millage increase, not because you want to pay more taxes, but because you are willing to invest in the children and the community. If the board voted unanimously, would that not prove to the children that as a community we are willing to do the right thing, however hard, when things are on the line? How can we teach our children to do the right thing if we are not willing to do it ourselves?