Courier Letters to the Editor 12-10-14

Never a poor investment

Dear Editor,

Education is never a poor investment.

As a parent, taxpayer, resident of Pickens County, teacher and advocate for our Pickens County students, I am concerned about the opposition toward the proposed tax increase to fund education. One tax increase proposal would require a homeowner to pay $22 more a year on a $100,000 home — an additional $1.83 a month. Some would say the district needs to cut waste — not raise taxes. I assure you, there is no waste to cut, and to make cuts cost our students opportunities.

A public school is meant to serve the community and prepare students to be the next members and leaders of the community. A public school is not the place to withhold funding to protect our pocketbooks. If the community makes the choice to withhold funds from our children, it’s made the choice to not ensure a prosperous future for this county.

The effects of our choices now will not be seen for years to come. Test scores currently reflect the quality teachers that we’ve employed for the past decade; however, as these teachers leave, we are no longer able to replace them with the best. If we are unable to pay competitive salaries, I fear quality educators seeking employment will not see Pickens County as an attractive place to work. In graduate school, the research I read showed teacher quality as the No. 1 predictor of student success. Research also shows teacher turnover is costly to a district and has a negative effect on student achievement.

If this tax increase doesn’t pass, we could see several schools in our school district close, resulting in higher class size. That is again going against all research. Research indicates that class size has an impact on a student’s success. Our students will spend more time on school buses, receive less one-on-one attention and be at more risk of falling through the cracks. Early education is important and if ineffective leads to higher dropout rates.

Research shows that when we have high teacher turnover, lower teacher quality, larger class sizes and inadequately funded classrooms, the dropout rate will rise. According to the National Drop Out Prevention Center, a high school dropout costs the economy $240,000 in his or her lifetime due to lost tax revenue and dependence on the government. 75 percent of prisoners in America are high school dropouts. Are we prepared to foot the bill for the additional dropouts as a result of our actions now? Some would argue ‘they aren’t my children, so they aren’t my responsibility,’ but they will become everyone’s responsibility when the student makes the choice to drop out. Rather than invest in these children now, we’ll invest in them on the backside due to our choices.

I urge each resident to contact Pickens County school board members and tell them you are in support of our children and our future. Our children deserve the best we have to offer.

Education is never a lost investment.

Frances Young


Why not a tax increase?

Dear Editor,

I have two major concerns with increasing local school taxes at this time. One, double taxation is irresponsible and unfair to the citizens of Pickens County. Why would we raise taxes on local citizens when the state is not returning money we already pay for government services? And two, the board needs a very precise list of what funds are spent on and must actively prioritize and direct funds to high-priority needs. I believe that is a primary obligation as a board member.

I can’t support a tax increase until the state fully funds its per pupil funding responsibility. It’s not that state officials can’t, they just have not made it a priority. In 2007, before the Great Recession, state general fund revenues were about $6.6 billion, and state per pupil funding was about $2,400 per student. As the recession dragged on, state revenues decreased several times and bottomed out at $5.3 billion in 2010, and student funding was cut to $1615.

The economy began to improve in 2011, and state revenue increased to $5.7 billion and student funding went back to $1,880. State revenue increased to $5.9 million in 2012, and student funding rose to $2,012 per student. In 2013, state revenue was $6.3 billion and student funding rose to $2,101, where it stands now — millions less for our students than before the recession.

So the question is, if state revenues have returned to near-pre-recession levels, why has the General Assembly not restored per pupil funding to pre-recession levels? That is a question for Senator Larry Martin and Representatives Davey Hiott, Neal Collins and Gary Clary. The local school board should not raise taxes on local folks again until state funding is restored.

Finally, the board has an obligation to know where every tax dollar goes. We cannot fulfill that responsibility unless we are active in reviewing, prioritizing and funding projects. Past practice has allowed the administration to use funds pretty much wherever they wish after the board approves them, which has resulted in fairness issues across the district and programs. Going forward, the school board must be involved in the funding process so needs are prioritized and funds spent fairly and efficiently on the greatest needs.

Any funding increases must be coupled with mandatory board review of all spending, and we must balance capital and large-scale project spending with operating and academic funding like teacher pay and classroom supplies. Capital and operating budgets are two very different accounts, but the board must closely consider both in order to effectively oversee the district. Looking at the two separately, either from a funding or spending viewpoint, is unfair to everyone and irresponsible of the board.

Phillip Bowers

Pickens County School Board trustee

Six Mile

Saitta: There is no crisis

Dear Editor,

No doubt many have heard talk of closing Ambler, Holly Springs and/or A.R. Lewis elementary schools. This is being fueled by statements from the district administration.

At the Nov. 24 school board meeting, superintendent Dr. Danny Merck said, “The truth is the higher taxes go up, the less likely there is going to be a school that is closed.”

On television last week, district spokesman John Eby said, “Anything that puts additional strain on the general fund makes it more likely we’ll have to consolidate schools. … The capital needs plan (and its tax increase) would take pressure off the general fund and make it less likely that we have to consolidate schools.”

I don’t know how the rest of the board members feel, but district administrators do not speak for me; I oppose closing any schools. Scaring parents, and teachers saying your school might be closed if their tax plan is not approved, is the most irresponsible statement I’ve heard from any district administration since I’ve been on the board.

In school, the focus needs to be math and English, not worrying about your school being closed by district administrators who don’t even have a vote in the matter. Only the school board can vote to buy, sell, open or close a school.

In my opinion, closing a school(s) would be a drastic decision brought on by the most severe financial crisis. And then I can think of 100 other things I’d cut that would not harm students before even considering closing a school.

I’ve studied finance my entire adult life, and I ask, what crisis? A financial crisis occurs when your revenue is here and your expenses are here and then suddenly your revenue falls to here. All of a sudden you have all these expenditures and you no longer have the revenue to pay for them.

That is not occurring with the school district. In fact, the school budget is in $500,000 surplus. Gasoline prices are falling, employment is rising and both are stimulating the economy, so state and local revenue is growing. Plus we’ll receive an extra $500,000 in TIF money, so I’m optimistic about next year, too.

Like every other district, we face financial challenges. For instance, the district has steady re-roofing, HVAC upgrading and painting schedules to maintain. The board and administration are working through that and are ahead on the issue. In 2013-14, the board and district spent $4.2 million on such projects, allocated $8.9 million in 2014-15 and just allocated another $3.2 million for 2015-16 projects, so the needs are taken care of into 2016.

By the way, two of those projects are to put $1.7 million worth of new HVACs at Holly Springs and Ambler. Does that indicate those schools are about to be closed? No, not to me.

The truth is, the district administration is creating the impression there is a financial crisis to force the board into an extraordinary action — in this case a series of property tax increases. I don’t like the manipulation, and the administration should refrain from doing this.

Alex Saitta

Pickens County School Board trustee


LHS student weighs in on Garner death

Dear Editor,

My name is Alex Nickell. I’m a junior at Liberty High School, and I am writing about the Eric Garner death in New York on July 17.

Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes on a street corner when he was confronted by police. After a short, nonviolent altercation between Garner and police, Daniel Pantaleo, an officer on the scene, took it into his own hands to put Garner in a chokehold. As Pantaleo continued to apply the chokehold, Garner repeatedly said he could not breathe. Soon after the scuffle between Pantaleo and Garner, the 43-year-old father of six was pronounced dead.

I’m not making this a racial issue as most people have done. My opinion is that the chokehold should not have been enforced on Garner. The way I understand it, chokeholds by police officers are illegal. So the real question that I feel everyone should be asking is, “why isn’t Pantaleo being indicted for his actions?”

I feel so strongly about this topic because Garner selling the cigarettes wasn’t worth losing his life. Garner had six children, and because of the vicious attack put on him by Pantaleo, Garner’s children have to grow up without their father. Pantaleo should feel lucky he is not being indicted for his actions. I want people to know what happened to Garner so it won’t happen to them.

The New York Police Department needs to do something about this. I think every police officer in New York City, as well as the rest of the country, needs to go over the rules they have as officers. Maybe that would stop some of the violence police officers think they can use when arresting people. Another way to keep this from happening to someone else is by having all the police officers trained again. I know that’s a lot to ask for, but if it keeps people from being put into chokeholds and killed, don’t you think the police departments around the country should at least consider these two ideas?

Alex Nickell