Those scary Act 1 requirements for local referenda on school district budgets? Not many referenda were held. There were so many exceptions, and so many ways to using them, school boards and administrations could find lots of ways to raise taxes without putting the budget before the voters for permission.
Raising taxes beyond an certain amount, determined by use of a formula, was verboten, according to Act 1, unless the reason was one (or some combination) of those exceptions—eight in all.
Now the exceptions are gone—all but the two most used ones: increases in special education costs, and additional costs for retirements. After all, you can’t keep people from retiring when they become eligible. And it wouldn’t be fair to stop finding children eligible for special education services because that would increase the district’s total cost of special education.
Governor Tom Corbett has just signed a bill, shortly after its passage by the legislature, that will remove the other six exceptions from Act 1. Those who had been lobbying against the bill have renewed their predictions of the destruction of public education as we have known it.
To which I say, “Get a grip.” Do you really suppose that the voters, having been apprised of the valid needs of the school system for funding for programs and built-in costs, will say, “So what? Eliminate the cafeteria or raise lunch prices. Drop a few sports. Without sports we won’t need a pep band, and without that we would not have that many students in the concert band, so forget that. And vocal concerts? We’ll be dis-concerted this year.”
No, that scenario doesn’t sound all that believable, does it? This community has been supportive of school buildings and programs. There have been a few times the public has protested, but not in a hard-nosed way at all.
Some of us have lived where the voters get to vote the budget up or down, or to choose among several versions of the budget, as a matter of course. We are likely to panic at the prospect that raising taxes “too much, without the right reason” would require voters’ permission, and tight-fisted voters would say, “Education be darned—we are not paying more taxes for any reason.”
In New York State the public gets to vote on school budgets as a matter of course, whether there is a spending or tax increase or not. School elections and budget votes are separate from the rest of the election process there, last I noticed. It used to be, and I would guess still is, that one must register specifically for school-related voting.
When I lived there, there were three dates on which the school election and budget vote could be held. Each year the school board decided which date to use. Some liked to pick the earliest, because if a re-vote became necessary, it could be done.
Most school budgets were approved the first time around, in typical years. Occasionally there would be some push-back from voters, especially where there were notable tax increases. Sometimes the board would put the same budget before the public again the following month; sometimes after one or two balks by the public, the budget would be trimmed and the voters would approve.
There were public meetings at which the board and administration explained the various expenditures and the reasoning behind increases.
The likelihood of getting voter approval was best if the budget was offered in several versions or with some choices, more or less like, um, pork dinner but with a choice of side dishes. The instructional budget would be the main course. Then, what would the voters like for trimmings?
The machines were supposed to be set so that only after voting YES on the main budget could voters choose the other items, such as transportation, cafeteria, band and chorus, sports.
One year in Friendship the machine was not set correctly. People could vote on the various items independently. As it turned out, sports and other co-curriculars, transportation and cafeteria passed handily. The instructional program was turned down.
I thought it was going to be interesting to see how things went with just rehearsals, team practices, eating and riding to and from school and events, but no tiresome classes. But it turned out that regulations forbade that sort of schedule. Another vote, with three different versions of the budget, found the voters supporting one that included some side dishes but no dessert.
If school budgets had to be “sold” to the public, in Pennsylvania, or if school tax increases had to be, it would not end public education as we know it.
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So far, opinions concerning graduates’ being allowed, or not allowed, to wear cowboy boots to commencement, have been on the conservative side. At least those opinions expressed to me, in response to my invitation, all have been along the lines that it is within the administration’s, or the class’s, or some committee’s prerogative to set a reasonable dress code. There have been some interesting notions, too.
“If I thought my cowboy boots were so important, I’d wear regular shoes for the graduation but have my boots in the car and change into them after I got outside.”
“I have my own idea about men who think cowboy boots are such a big deal. It’s the only way they can wear high heels.”
And my favorite added remark, after a general “no cowboy boots” note: “There would be some show off who would have boots with spurs. Spurs could get caught in the gown, especially on the steps.”
It’s not too late for you to add your comments to my little collection.
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