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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Don't Do School Boards

If nothing else, I've made lots of enemies in two years of blogging. It's a pretty long list and includes Northampton County Council members who exalt partisanship over good government, isolated county judges who think they're frickin' architects, party bosses who think the Lehigh Valley is Tammany Hall, Nazareth residents who hate skateboarders, Allentown mayor Ed "Pay to Play" Pawlowski, LANTA, the state's biggest political consultant (Severson Scissorhands), blue bloods in the Lehigh Valley Partnership, local elections officials and Senator Lisa Boscola.

To borrow a line from another post, "They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred."

I have little to worry about. You see, I have super powers. I recently turned another blogger into a dolphin.

But I'd rather have acid poured down my throat than write about a school board. When people ask me why, I give all kinds of phony baloney reasons. I don't own a home, for one thing. I never went to a public school. I know very little about the goofy laws that apply to them, either.

True, ignorance has never stopped me from covering other topics. But I don't do school boards. Those educational bodies and circus clowns are the two things that scare the hell out of me.

On Tuesday, Express Times editor Joe Owens just wrote a suicide note. His blog completely trashes a ten percent tax hike for Nazareth schools.

"Public education in Pennsylvania is the closest thing to legalized theft in this fair commonwealth. Nepotism is institutional. Entitlement is the anthem. Watching out for self-interest is the mission statement.

"Apathy is the fuel."
Steamin' Joe sounds steamed. But he's right. All attempts to reduce that hike were brushed aside.

Who knows? Maybe the board can use that extra money to pay the legal fees for the assault charges against their newly-hired football coach. When he's done intimidating witnesses, perhaps coach will pay Joe a visit.

What's happening in Nazareth is unfortunately no different than what is happening everywhere. Professionals on boards like the one in Bethlehem regularly make fools of themselves. A $12 million pool in Easton is chump change. Joe's answer is that we need to pay attention. Rightyo, Joe.

But here's the problem. Citizens who pay attention to school boards are treated like wing nuts, even more so than gadflies like me.

Take Nina Malsch, for example. She's a citizen activist who is very involved in the Northampton Area School Board. Years ago, she challenged the campaign finances of school board candidates who used an IU20 school to prepare campaign posters. Because the violations found were only technical, she was ordered to pay most of the cost of an audit in a draconian decision designed to discourage citizens from taking an interest in government.

Undaunted, Malsch challenged bond proceedings when Northampton School District attempted to finance a $59 million school project. Like most citizen activists, she went down in flames again.

She persisted, and eventually, the school board members who wanted to tax and spend were ousted.

I have no opinion whether Malsch is actually right about anything. That's irrelevant to me. She's a citizen who takes her role seriously and has been willing to go toe to toe with people who think they are her betters.

Joe Owens would like Nina. He'd beg her to move to Nazareth. Bill White, however, trashed her yesterday and made this nonpolitican a member of his Hall of Fame. Bill obviously disagrees with most of her views, but she's never brought bolt-cutters to a school board meeting, or engaged in any of the histrionics I see from elected officials in Northampton County on a regular basis.

I usually agree with Bill, but can't help but feel that award was designed to let Nina know she had better learn her place. Government is far too important to let citizens have any meaningful say. Only newspaper columnists are entitled to opinions.

This condescending attitude is completely contrary to Bill's stances on most other issues. Why the inconsistency? Because it's a damn school board. They make us all a little nutz, and I'm already crazy enough.

I don't do school boards.


Anonymous said...

Like you, I don't know if this person is correct. But assuming she isn't, is costing the taxpayer money in legal expenses and lost productivity justifiable because of a single person's opinion on taxation?

consigliere said...

one thing to keep in mind is that the school districts are usually very much larger than the municipalities in which they reside.

for example, the Allentown School District receives vastly more revenues, taxes, has many more employees and owns more property than the City of Allentown.

to go from School Director to being a member of Allentown City Council, as one person did last November, is really going backwards (like a stakes horse running in a $2,500 claiming race . . . for those of you who appreciate racing metaphors).

at municipal and county levels every expenditure is micro-analyzed while at the nearbye school district, hundreds of thousands are regularly spent with little or no citizen input.

Anonymous said...

Yet a citizen can see easily what the moneys are being spent on, be it physical plant or personnel. The vast majority of funds are spent on personnel salaries and benefits. These funds are then reinvested in the local economy.

Anonymous said...

Northampton Area School Board. Wasn't that the Board they appointed Stoffa to and he promptly voted for a tax increase.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 10:13, i believe jeanette eichenwald was encouraged and flattered by ed pawlowski. thus far she appears to be returning the favor

Anonymous said...

all this just proves what a failure the Rendell Tax Reform Plan is.