Time to consider one school district
To the editor:
Recently, we saw and read about the school construction progress at Indian Creek schools. What wasn’t mentioned was the 37-year tax levy to pay for it. Why so long? Insufficient tax base. We live in a county that has lost more than 50 percent of its population since 1970, has fewer major employers and increasingly retired or low- and moderate-income residents. Since 1979, the K-12 enrollment in Jefferson County has declined 54 percent, to fewer than 8,000 students. Yet, not a single school district (we have five plus a joint vocational school) has consolidated and with less than half the workload, district performance is poor with the exception of Steubenville City Schools. Perhaps it’s time to focus on giving our kids a quality education and advantages in the labor market versus school district administrations justifying their paychecks through school construction.
What would happen if we had one unified school district administration and school board? Annual savings of more than $4 million. Consolidate down to a two-high-school system and supporting middle and grade schools and save more than $20 million per year. Some may question my numbers, but isn’t it worth a serious look at creating a new brighter future for our kids?
How would the savings be used? Start by hiring better teachers and reward teaching performance. The funds saved also could easily be directed toward building cutting-edge vocational and junior-college-level education and training opportunities in computer science, cybersecurity, robotics, advanced manufacturing, supply chain logistics, quality assurance as well as traditional trades. We need programs that give all of our kids a solid head start to middle-class paying jobs. The Pittsburgh area is slated to be one of the five manufacturing meccas in America. Wouldn’t it be nice that our kids, now trained to succeed in the 21st century economy, could continue to live here and contribute here? A trained workforce and a training system that can easily accommodate employers’ training needs attracts new employment opportunities. School reform in Jefferson County could provide such advantages at no additional cost to taxpayers. It might require giving up some of our cherished school names (could we survive with a “Jefferson North Big Red” vs. Steubenville Big Red?) and some people will be out of their unnecessary jobs.
Thoughts of consolidation are not new in Jefferson County. As the county’s regional planning director, I did see high school construction plans for a consolidated Edison Local/ Indian Creek school district. But without the support of parents, taxpayers, business and community leaders, a real discussion of this consolidated school district plan will not get off the ground.
For too long, the students, parents and taxpayers have suffered from the job cronyism of unnecessary staffs, inefficiencies and wasted resources and poor school district teaching performance. With change, we could do a lot better job to educate and train coming generations and benefit more as a county.