It's always easy, when you're not happy about some tax-related situation, to say that there's wasteful spending going on.
The truth of the matter is that, yes, I'm sure there is wasteful spending going on. Any organization, large or small, has waste and inefficiency. There are always ways to keep improving, to do things better for less money. That's true of government, or business, or household finances.
There are also cases where such-and-such an organization suffers what its leaders thought would be a catastrophic budget cut and then learns, by necessity, that it can make do with less.
Then again, there are cases where there is a legitimate need. There are cases where money has to be spent, and you can't just go looking for spare change between the sofa cushions.
There are tons of legitimate statistics showing that Bedford County ranks below its neighbors in education spending.
The lion's share of teacher salaries are funded by the state. But local school systems can pay over and above that amount. It's a matter of supply and demand; if you want to attract better teachers, or keep good ones already working for you, one way to do it is by offering better salaries.
One commenter grumbled that our existing teachers were not very good and therefore did not deserve more money. I'm not sure I agree with that -- as a matter of fact, I don't agree with it. But even if it were true, the idea of raising teacher salaries isn't just about our existing teachers, nor have I heard many of our existing teachers pounding their fists on the table demanding raises.
The proposal to raise teacher salaries is, in part, about the teachers we'll need to hire next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Each year, it seems, another of the poor souls who had to put up with me in the county school system takes retirement, and someone has to be hired to take that spot. Also, as our population grows, entirely new teaching positions are created. And we are at risk of losing some of our existing teachers to other nearby counties where the pay is better.
If we want good, effective teachers, we have to pay salaries comparable to surrounding counties. No, we may never be able to match the top salaries paid by some of our more affluent neighbors. But we lag behind even counties comparable to our size and economic status.
Times are tough. Some people are out of a job. It would be easier to wait and pass a wheel tax after some big new factory opens up here and puts a lot of those people back to work.
Unfortunately, it doesn't happen that way. When industrial prospects look at places they might like to relocate (or existing industries decide which of their plants to expand, maintain or close), one of the things they look at is the local school system. The local school system is an indicator of whether or not the plant is going to be able to find a supply of trained employees.
Also, if the company transfers in some of its executives to run a new or expanded operation, those executives want to know about local schools and quality of life.
If we wait until our local economy gets better before investing money in education, we may end up waiting a while, regardless of what happens at the national level.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.