One of the toughest tasks I had as editor of The Times-Reporter was signing off on election endorsements.
Endorsements are something I think a newspaper should do for its readers because a good newspaper has a better handle on candidates and issues than the average Joe because if it's doing its job, it is asking questions that the average Joe doesn't get to ask. It sees the big picture, or should. And it ought to let the readers in on the deal.
Under my watch, the local newspaper was a strong supporter of local school levies even in hard times. I always believed, and I guess I owe a lot to my father for my thinking, that as a community's schools go, so goes the community.
For the most part, my father and mother believed in Catholic schools for their children. The younger children in the family, yes, including me, finished their high school educations in the public schools, but only after more than 10 years under the guidance of the sisters of St. Joseph or the brothers of Holy Cross.
But my father, never a man of great means, never voted against a public school levy despite the fact that he forked over tuition so his children could attend Catholic schools.
In our area, in this general election, four school districts -- Claymont, Newcomerstown, Conotton Valley and East Holmes -- are asking for approval of additional levies. Because we are in the Great Recession -- I don't think it's over either -- it would be easy to tell voters to just say no.
And that would be wrong. At least in my mind.
Three of those districts -- Claymont, Newcomerstown and Conotton Valley -- are among the poorest districts in our area. Their effective tax rates tell part of the story, but not all of it:
Claymont -- 26.27
Newcomerstown -- 31.10
Conotton Valley -- 30.16
For comparison sake, here are the effective tax rates for Dover and New Philadelphia:
Dover -- 36.09
New Philadelphia -- 28.98
Dover long has had the reputation of having the best school system in Tuscarawas County and this is no knock on New Philadelphia because perception may or may not be reality. But there's a reason why Realtors tout Dover Schools in their advertising.
Look at the effective tax rate. It means that you will pay more in taxes in Dover than you would on the same home of the same value in New Philadelphia. It's also an indication that homes in Dover have a higher value than elsewhere and that its citizens value public education.
(When you compare the effective tax rates in and around Tuscarawas County, they're all a bargain. Move to a Cleveland or Columbus suburb and your taxes will effectively double or triple.)
Now, the knock on school levies is that they place an unfair burden on property owners and that the state needs to fix the way it funds education. I agree. But this assessment has been going on since the '70s. And when someone tells you the state needs to fix education funding and you believe it will happen in the near future, and therefore vote against your school levy, you run the risk of wrecking what you have.
Think long term here. Let's take Newcomerstown, for example. It's a poor school district. The state kicks in more per capita to educate Newcomerstown kids than it does Dover kids because of that. But it needs local help to maintain its mission. And frankly, what would happen to Newcomerstown if its school system went into the big dumper? Would you want to live there?
I know. I read the comments posted underneath stories on newspaper web sites. Some people can't figure out why they have to fund the schools when they have no kids. Others say the state needs to totally fund the schools and spare property owners. And still others blame public schools' staffing -- too many administrators, they say. Too many guidance counselors.
"They ought to run school districts like a business," is a common refrain..
Well, it's not a business. It's a school system that is charged with the responsibility of educating children in the very complicated 21st century. Good Lord, we don't know what jobs will be around in 10 years but somehow we have to prepare the children to be ready for them.
Think that's easy?
Add to the equation that a significant portion of the population probably ought not to be parents and they send their children to school every day with the scars of emotional abuse and/or neglect.
So, now we want to tell our school districts -- our poorest school districts -- to do more with less because, we'll, we're in a recession. OK, easy way out.
I'm just saying if ever there were a time to support the schools, this is it. And yes, let's hope the state figures out a better way to fund public education. But don't forget, it can never do it without your money. You're naive if you think otherwise.
For goodness sakes, support your schools.