Accountability is at hand
Published 12:20 am Wednesday, February 26, 2003
By By James Crawford
For the past couple of weeks, we have ran numerous editorials on the subject of education, the impending education crisis and the need for tax support to help keep the schools open.
The response we have received from many people has been mixed. Although everyone says they are willing to support whatever means are necessary to help fund the schools, they are in big disagreement over what exactly IS necessary.
Superintendent Melvin "Buck" Powell said several times at the three special town meetings that he wasn't worried about the ones who showed up, he was worried about those who didn't, and so am I.
From those I've talked to, letters we've received for and against a tax increase and from the response to our website poll, almost no one seems to be out and out willing to pay more taxes to help the schools without the schools becoming more a great deal more accountable for their spending.
Our web poll, although not to be construed as a scientific means of data, nevertheless revealed that out of a sampling of respondents more than a majority was against any tax of any kind. This same group of people responded recently to tell us that they are the homeowners and landowners of this area. In other words, they are the ones that Powell was worried about and he was obviously right because that group of unknowns has spoken and they have said a resounding NO.
The general complaint I hear most often from folks is that they don't understand where the money goes. They want a clear concise breakdown as to how the school's money is spent: how much goes to teachers, how much to maintenance, how much to equipment how much is allotted to State mandates and Title 1 programs and so forth compared to how much is brought in monthly.
The school board adopted a resolution to ask for a 10-mil property tax increase but that cannot and should not be the end of the effort to convince the public of what is needed. They said during those meetings that they planned to advertise and get the word out to the voters about what to do.
At this point they need to step back and punt and get the basics of how, what, where, and why out of the way if they are to have a prayer of getting ANYTHING passed at all. I'm not from this area and in my three months of being here I haven't had enough time to find out why there is so much distrust of the local officials but I can sympathize with the overall feeling of distrust with those in power because we all feel frustrated from time to time.
But putting the blame game on those in power isn't fair to them and it certainly isn't fair to you, after all, the voters are the ones who put those leaders in power to begin with.
I think what we all need, before this gets any messier, is to become more informed of what the bottom line is with our schools. Some of that information has to come from the school board but some of it can be garnished on our own.
If you want to know what the money has been spent on, then go look at the fiscal year financial reports. They're open to anyone who has the time to read the massive documents.
Accountability has to go two ways. If we hold our school official's feet to the fire then we as citizens need to be willing to pull up a chair. I know for a fact that I haven't taken the time to sit down and read those reports and to be honest I'm not sure I would understand what all they said anyway.
That's why we hire people to become experts to deal with those matters and we as the general public have to be able to trust that they know what they're doing and will do a good job.
I think that trust has been broken.
If there is to be a solution to the current crisis and the future funding needs of Escambia County then the time has to be taken to rebuild that trust. If any of you have any ideas on how that could happen, I would like to hear from you.
James Crawford is News Editor of The Atmore Advance. His column appears on Wednesday.s He can be reached by phone at 368-2123 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.