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Government Watch teaches lessons that some in Valley choose to ignore



Published: Sun, May 15, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)


My Friday morning coffee stop came with a chance encounter with a Poland neighbor. He thanked us for our Government Watch effort and its focus on school spending.

My Friday day-ending Diet Pepsi came with a call from a Poland Seminary High School journalist interviewing me about The Vindicator’s role in the Poland levy defeat.

He wasn’t thankful.

In the past week or so since the May primaries, reaction has been consistent — our Government Watch has its lovers and haters.

Top officials at Canfield schools are in the same camp as the Poland high-schooler. They were exceptionally chilly to our Canfield reporter after their failed levy — citing The Vindicator’s lack of editorial endorsement as contributing to their levy defeat.

I shared with the high-schooler a lesson on the levy that I doubt they teach at either Poland or Canfield schools. He plans to write a column himself for the Poland paper on this topic that should be published next week.

Blame The Vindicator, I encouraged the student, but you will be ignoring the lessons that the numbers are screaming to teach you.

Both the Canfield and Poland levy votes on May 3 offered a great chance to show just how savvy voters can be in communities that local lore alleges are the Valley’s two suburban gems.

Voters in both towns had the opportunity to say “yes” twice or “no” twice to millions of taxpayer dollars. Add up the emotion with Senate Bill 5, consider the economy, and weigh in coverage of The Vindicator.

The two communities’ residents were almost identical in their voting — 60 percent or so approved the renewal levies, and 60 percent rejected the new spending.

The lesson to school leaders was:

v We like what you’re doing, or we would have rejected the renewal levies.

v But this is all we can afford, and you have to do better with your money. We don’t think that you have pressed your operations as the private sector has.

I told the Poland student that yes, you can blame The Vindy, and that is probably what school staff and his parents might want him to think.

But do you really want to allege that 2,544 voters — parents, neighbors, friends and peers in one of the more affluent Valley districts — do not know how to think for themselves?

The 2,544 votes is essentially the same number of votes that approved the renewal. So for two seconds, the citizens were lucid and capable when voting for the renewal, then — two seconds later — they were duped by the newspaper?

The student had a great second question that caused me to wonder about its origin:

“Do you think it was right to list teacher salaries at our school and not compare them to other Blue Ribbon schools to show ours are among the lowest paid?”

Wow ...

I discussed the comparison we looked at, and I encouraged him to consider:

How were the last three years of our lives economically as Poland and Canfield residents and as U.S citizens, and how did the local governments spend in that period?

The years 2008, 2009 and 2010, besides Lady Gaga, are best summed up as: $4 gas, real-estate crash, automotive crash, stock-market crash, bank crash, double-digit unemployment, sales-tax revenue that never eclipsed 2006 levels, loss of benefits and pensions and more.

But what did it mean for schools?

For Canfield schools, it meant: 2008 — a 3.1 percent wage hike; 2009 — a 3.5 percent wage hike; 2010 — a 3.0 percent wage hike.

This is not just teachers. Canfield schools boss Dante Zambrini — the top salary and not unionized and surely able to decline pay bumps if for no reason than just for token show — had salary growth of 1.9, 4.3 and 3.1 percent in those years.

Poland did the same. Staffers, in addition to the 3 percent norm, also got an additional 1 percent each year if they maintained national accreditation each year.

Poland staffers did sign off this spring on two years of wage freezes. That works to a degree, but also comes off as a bit of baiting for the levy. Sustain that prudence, and it will pay off in the future.

I’m thrilled at least that the student called. It was a first for me.

Gumption and assertiveness are skills you assume get lost in the pursuit of better standardized test scores. He’s learned well overall, despite learning a “blame-the-media” view.

With Government Watch and its inclusion of public-employee salaries, The Vindicator is not aiming to be anti-government or pro-SB 5.

It’s merely trying to offer a lesson in spending that most government leaders don’t want to face — or share with some students.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.


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