Monday, September 17, 2007

Choose excellence: Vote yes on Tuesday

(Published 8/25/07)

This area’s public schools are some of our greatest assets, and that’s no accident. Their cultivation, development and achievement are the results of a lot of hard work by many dedicated people and the partnership among educators, local leaders and residents to give children a strong foundation for life.

Success is attractive. Just ask anyone who’s moved here from surrounding areas – or further away – to take advantage of the promise found in our schools.

But with growth comes added challenges, which brings us to this week’s issue.

Voters in Lee County will go to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of a proposed seven-mill property tax increase for education.

It’s easy to vote no. After all, it’s just another tax increase, right? Wrong.

Tuesday’s vote is a good example of when the easy road is not the best one.

The increases sought by Auburn City Schools, Opelika City Schools and Lee County Schools are necessary to maintain the quality of school programs and to adequately prepare for the growth coming to the Lee County area, the systems’ superintendents say.

Opponents’ arguments have included the following:

  • "Why don’t schools plan for growth?" They are. The funding this increase will generate is crucial to their plans.
  • "Why not raise the sales tax instead?" As school officials have noted, property tax is a steadier source of funding than the volatile sales tax. Is it good policy to plan based on a more volatile funding source?
  • "Are there other more pressing needs, such as our infrastructure?" I consider the provision of public education to be one of government’s paramount responsibilities and an integral part of our infrastructure, don’t you?
  • "Computers? That sounds expensive." In this technological age, really? I’m reminded of that old saying: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."
I often wonder whether the most vocal opponents of referenda like these have grounded their opposition in reason by attending budget workshops, reading yearly budgets, etc. It’s my experience that usually, they haven’t. So ask yourself: do you trust the carefully considered recommendation of those immersed in the issue and entrusted with the education of your children and grandchildren? Or the opinions of casual observers engaging in drive-by, armchair policymaking?

The question comes down to whether we’ll have excellent schools, as is our tradition, or average schools, as so many less fortunate communities do.

To those of you in Lee County planning to vote no in the wake of events this summer, I encourage you to consider who will be affected by your choice. If you have questions – concerns, even – about the leadership of that school system and its stewardship of your tax dollars, engage your board members. But don’t deny the students the funds they need to excel.

So, vote yes, if even for selfish reasons: Passage will help ensure that your property value will continue to increase – driven, of course, by the strength of public schools.

The Auburn City Schools’ slogan for this effort is "Excellence is a Choice." In other words, excellence doesn’t just happen. It takes effort, and it takes sacrifice. At critical times like these, residents here have made the conscious choice to invest in public education. Will we?

A strong public education system is a gleaming jewel in the crown of any community. It’s good for business, good for property values and good for the future. The people of Lee County have a chance on Tuesday to invest in this community’s crown jewels: our schools, and the children they serve. Don’t let them down.

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