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A school board's delicate balancing act

We commend the Taylor County Board of Education for listening to the people. The board held a public meeting this week to give county residents a chance to explain why they rejected a proposed $9.7 million bond issue in December.

More than 50 residents showed up and offered a variety of reasons for the bond's failure: Residents weren't given enough information about the bond issue; residents are already taxed too much; residents should be allowed a separate on vote on each bond-funded project; residents are leery of investing millions in old buildings when new, consolidated schools might be built.

Some residents showed up to speak in favor of the bond, saying that county schools, especially athletic facilities, are in desperate need of improvement. "My son wrestles," said one parent, "and when I'm in other counties I see facilities that put our to shame."

We feel for that parent -- and for the other parents who worry their children are being shortchanged by substandard schools. But we also understand those people who feel they're "getting taxed to death," as one county resident told the school board.

Balancing people's concerns for quality schools and fair taxation is difficult. But it's a difficulty faced by Taylor and almost every other county school system in West Virginia. Because county school systems are funded by county property taxes, there is less money to spend on education in smaller, more rural, poorer counties. These are the counties that most need bond issues to improve the quality of their public schools. But these are also the counties where residents can least afford to pay more taxes. It's a shame schools are funded this way. As the Recht decision established nearly two decades ago, schools shouldn't be funded this way. The state, of course, has ignored the Recht decision, and county school systems still have to struggle to get bond issues passed.

In Taylor County, at least, we hope the school board came away from this week's meeting with new ideas that will help it craft another bond issue proposal -- one that achieves just the right balance to win the approval of Taylor County voters.

Tim Langer

Telegram Editorial Board member

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