Letter: Support our schools: an alternative

Like so many residents of Rappahannock, I watched the unfolding annual story of the debate about whether or not we should have higher property taxes to pay for the increasing cost of services, especially education, in the county. Again the center of the discussions focused on increasing or cutting the school budget. I was disappointed with the outcome. My disappointment has roots in my history and, of course, in my world view and life values. I certainly understand and appreciate the arguments and opinions of those who preferred more cuts versus increases: the biggest increase going to teachers after four or five years without raises.

My support of education and teachers goes back to my youth when I was active in student government in my city and high school in 1959. A city of 50,000 in Wisconsin, our conservative mayor and a few city councilmen were determined to cut property taxes and the city school budget substantially thus leading to the firing of many teachers. I organized a group of classmates around the city to go door-to-door to conduct a survey to test the mayor’s contention that the electorate supported his position. To his surprise and annoyance, we discovered that voters did not support him on this issue. After the media reported on our effort and results, the city council chambers were filled with citizens and students opposing school budget cuts. (We won, by the way!)

Without giving more details of my experience, you can imagine the debate on both sides was filled with much of what you read or heard about the debates here this year and in the recent past. Over the years, one data point has consistently been true: We seem, based on salary, to value garbage collectors only a little less than teachers. Today in Virginia, the average teacher starts at $32,200 a year. A garbage collector starts between $24,400 and $36,600. The average current salary for teachers is $43,800, for garbage collectors between $30,000 and $44,000. If we compare our nation to nations that are growing at faster rates than the US, one indicator of their success is how much they value their teachers – not just in salary and benefits but teacher-training, modern facilities, technology and education reform.

A few issues ago, someone in the opposition to a tax increase suggested in the editorial section that those of us who favored the increase, should we lose, can simply make a donation to the local school division. Given the outcome of the debate, and my world view and values, that is a terrific idea! My wife and I will make that donation to compensate for what we would have paid. We encourage others to do the same and thank you all in advance for your generosity and spirit of conviction.

Ralph Bates

EDITOR’S NOTE: At its regular meeting May 7, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution – as suggested at an April budget public hearing by Michael Cioffi of Castleton and later clarified in his letter to the editor – to include a note with its next property-tax-bill mailing that would allow those who wish to make a “donation” over and above what they owe.

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