The chicken or the egg?

Published 10:26 am Friday, May 24, 2013

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors, comprised of seven members who each hold one of the seven most unpleasant and thankless jobs in the county, are once again in the unenviable position of deciding how many taxpayer dollars to allocate to the public schools. And the reality is that, no matter what they decide to do a good portion of the county will be furious with their decision. Fail to provide the school system with the resources they need and teachers, school administrators and parents will be up in arms. Raise the tax revenue required to grant the schools’ request, and taxpayers will threaten a coup.

The most frustrating aspect of this annual debate is that both sides are absolutely right. The schools do need more funding, and anyone who has taken a close look at how the schools are operating realizes that they are being operated with as lean a budget as they can possibly stand. Additional funding cuts will lead directly to fewer instructional resources. Educational quality will almost certainly take a hit.

Taxpayers, fresh on the heels of a new two hundred dollar per year assessment for trash disposal, feel they can’t afford another nickel in new taxes. And an increase in real estate taxes will only place a more disproportional burden on those who are already footing the bill.

Something’s got to give. The question is, which will it be?

The answer boils down to a philosophical decision on the role of public education in the community. At a recent board of supervisors meeting, one board member indicated that increasing funding for schools would place too great a burden on the county’s poor and impoverished, pointing out that 26 percent of county residents currently receive assistance for buying food. He also noted that 50 percent live just above the poverty line.

Another commented that when new business moves to the county and new tax dollars are generated, the board would direct the increased revenue to the schools.

But the reality is that those living in or near poverty have few opportunities to advance their station in life. A quality education is one of them. And new business, which we all hope has Southampton County on a short list of possible locations, will closely examine the quality of education we currently provide as part of their criteria for a new business location.

Not providing the schools with the resources they need to provide the best education possible only serves to keep the impoverished poor and to further stunt economic growth. Our economic condition will not magically improve unless we do something different than what we have to this point.

There are no easy answers, and certainly no easy decisions to be made. But often times doing the right thing is the most difficult, and unpleasant to do. The question we must ask ourselves is, if we keep doing the same thing, can we reasonably expect a different result?