Letter: ‘Where are our leaders?’
The Gazette-Journal has admonished letter writers to keep it short, but in the case of the school budget process in Mathews County, there is a lot of pent-up frustration coming out in these letters. The elected officials in Mathews County have allowed the budget process to be driven by one set of statistics provided by the superintendent of schools, who has a vested interest in the numbers he uses. When was the last time they were seriously challenged by a member of the school board or the board of supervisors?
In the absence of leadership from people who were elected to provide leadership, we continue the pattern of insults and emotionalism. One letter says, once again, everything is the fault of "lazy teachers." That’s been said every year for as long as I can remember. That is answered by the appeal to the "wonderful kids and great teachers" we have, but neither of these letters discussed numbers and statistics.
I thank Dr. Richards for rising to the occasion to at least acknowledge the discussion has to move away from personal insult and cheerleading toward numbers. We would probably butt heads over the statistics cited, but at least there are numbers to debate instead of insulting one another. The problem is he’s a private citizen and those on the other side in the debate are private citizens. Where are our elected leaders?
Here are some other observations. A couple of issues back in the G-J, we learned the population of Mathews County has fallen below 9,000. The school enrollment has declined over the same amount of time. Yet, over that time, the number of people employed as administrators, teachers and aides in the schools has grown.
Dr. Richards cited statistics about funding in Middlesex County, but failed to point out Middlesex can afford to pay more for its schools. In 2009, Middlesex had about 30 percent more value in taxable real estate than Mathews. Middlesex had over 1,000 more people living in their county in the same year. The tax burden in Middlesex could be spread out and it was, since their real estate tax rate was about 40 percent less than the one in Mathews. The enrollment numbers cited in another letter do not correspond with the ones Dr. Richards cited because they come from different years. The other letter documents their statistics come from the 2009-10 school term. They are on the state website. We can quibble over one county having 20 or so students more than another from one year to the next, but that avoids the issue of a locality’s ability to pay.
Mathews does not have the tax base to maintain school spending levels to match those of Middlesex or many other localities. We can, as we have been doing, raise real estate tax rates and jack up assessments above market value, but such a policy is a fiscal death spiral. Every higher tax rate and skewed assessment acts as a disincentive to buy land in Mathews. If one does not think so, just drive down the road and look at all the "For Sale" signs and remember the population is declining. Each time we try to keep up through higher taxes and assessments, it only drives more value out of the county. We are growing poorer. Our county, and our county schools, have to come to terms with that.
It’s not about "lazy teachers" or "wonderful kids and teachers." It is about a county that is strangling itself economically in order to maintain a level of school funding it cannot afford.
Sorry I could not keep it shorter, but if our leaders had spelled things out for the public beforehand, we wouldn’t have to do it for them.