Next year, conference in scranton

April 19, 1999

How precious is this? The Washington County Commissioners accuse the Washington County School Board of having "fluff" in its proposed annual budget. But the board members aren't around to defend themselves against this serious allegation of wasteful spending.

Why? Because they're all, every one, off on some national school board junket in San Francisco, Calif.

Man, did the School Board ever pick the wrong week to go on a road trip. Did they forget what time of year it was? Certainly they knew that every spring the school system submits a budget and every spring the County Commissioners say that it's too much and every spring the School Board says "Is not" and every spring the County Commissioners say "Is too" and round and round they go until the county trims the budget request and the School Board says our children will certainly end up in the sewers as a result.


This year, there was a possibility things might be different. Three of the four new County Commissioners had run on a platform of greater funding for education. Of course since they'd gotten into office, it was a promise a couple of them had been backpedaling from faster than a Cantonese unicyclist, but since they'd promised (albeit a campaign promise, which is not quite the same thing as a real promise) more money for schools, they'd look awfully bad if they reneged.

But now the School Board has surrendered its high ground in one easy cross-country flight. How are they possibly going to argue there isn't enough money in the budget when the board is flush enough that all seven members went to the City by the Bay, and I don't mean Chesapeake.

I know. These national school board conferences are invaluable resources for board members who every day face new and more challenging issues in the world of education. And it shows in our high test scores.

No, wait, I mean it shows in our high percentage of students who go on to college. No, it shows in, in - in what, the number of students who go on to successfully complete the Jail Substance Abuse Program in the Washington County Detention Center?

Let's pretend for the moment that these conferences are worthwhile (a strain, since I've covered similar conferences in the past and seen what mental butter churning goes on in them). Why did they have to send all seven members? OK, maybe they thought someone was going to ask them to field a starting water polo team. But couldn't they have sent one or two and had them report back? I thought that's why we had Andrew Humphreys.

I guess the rest of the board members looked at Humphreys, who does more traveling that the average ATP tennis pro, and figured if you can't beat him, join him. Quick, somebody better check the auto pool.

The real problem, as I see it, is that these conferences are held in desirable locations. San Francisco has no business hosting a government conference on anything, because everybody's going to want to go.

I'm sure the board members would deny it until the bus drivers come home, but do you really believe all seven of them would have felt the overwhelming urge to attend if the conference had been held in, say, Lincoln, Neb.?

If I'm ever asked to sit down and rewrite our Constitution, you can bet that Article VI, Section II is going to require that all government conferences be held in northcentral Pennsylvania.

That ought to cut down on superfluous travel. The same people who would love the idea of an expense-paid trip to Fisherman's Wharf might not be quite so keen on jetting off to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. It's a lot easier to cut the fluff when the wind chill's a negative 15.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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