Serving For The Common Good

I have been vocal over the years in criticizing the number of school districts in Chautauqua County–there are 18 of them. (If I lived in Virginia or in a similar state, there would be one county-wide district.) The average school superintendent in Chautauqua County makes over $150,000 per year. When you add benefits to that and multiply it by 18–we pay a lot for public school administration in the county.

Nevertheless, though we have a lot of school districts, they do need to be governed and I admire those who run for school board. It is not a paid position … they do it for our common good. I also like the fact that these elections are not partisan in nature–it is not Democrat vs. Republican. And, in most cases, the contests are quite civil. The candidates talk about their views on public education, and what they believe to be the best educational policies for our young people.

School board members also have to keep their eye on the budget and tax rate. There is now in New York state a property tax cap law which applies to local governments and school districts. There is also a state-aid formula which, in most instances in Chautauqua County, is the largest revenue source for public school education.

I live in the Chautauqua Lake Central School District where state aid is actually less than the local tax levy. Yet, the district is good about sending out information to the voters prior to the school board elections and budget approval. The letter breaks down the budget into various categories and also includes biographies or resumes of the candidates running for election. The letter doesn’t totally take the “sting” out of paying school taxes, but it is an important effort in informing the taxpayers and voters about what is going on.

School board members usually don’t form a Political Action Committee or go out and raise money for their election. However, they are in the public eye and have to answer to their constituents just like every elected official.

I remember the days when elections were run in a similar, non-partisan manner in the city of Jamestown. You didn’t run as a Republican or Democrat. You ran on a “Citizens Party” or “Taxpayer’s Party”…or under some generic party name. It was a way of doing politics that left out some of the sharp edges that go with major party politics.

Could we ever go back to those “good old days?” Maybe not, but at least we should be grateful that school board politics are still non-partisan. You can listen to who has the best ideas for running the local school system, decide on whom you are voting for and not get tied up in whether they are a Republican or a Democrat.

So, to those who serve on school boards, thank you for what you do. It makes our lives better, and it is good knowing that there are well-intentioned, dedicated individuals who are still willing to “step up to the plate” and serve the community so that our children get a good education.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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