City Council and District 95
Carbondale’s proposed agreement to fund a voluntary summer reading and math program at District 95 was the big issue at Tuesday’s city council meeting. During a public hearing on the city’s FY ’12 budget, one resident spoke in favor of the program. Five residents, including three city council candidates, spoke against the city funding the program.
I’m coming late to this controversy. The people opposed to the plan seem to share a number of objections: we shouldn’t give Carbondale’s tax money to another taxing district, education isn’t the city’s responsibility, there is no way to terminate the five year program early, there are no clear standards for evaluating success, and the program is voluntary (potentially missing the most at risk children).
Supporters say the poor performance of District 95 is an obstacle to bringing new residents to town, that the schools need help and the city has a responsibility to act, and that the city established a precedent for assisting school districts when it helped to finance the construction of the new high school. Supporters also point to the small cost of the program relative to the city’s Saluki Way donation ($750k over five years vs. $20 million over twenty years).
After the public meeting ended, council members spoke. Councilwoman Mary Pohlmann said if the District 95 program is in the final budget, she’ll vote against it. Councilman and mayoral candidate Joel Fritzler also expressed opposition. Councilwoman Corene McDaniel pledged her support for the program, and Mayor Brad Cole said someone has to step in and do something about the schools.
That’s two in favor and two opposed. Councilmen Neill and Wissmann didn’t say definitively whether or not they will support the program. Councilman and mayoral candidate Steven Haynes didn’t stake out a firm position either.
I expect some version of this to pass. Wissmann may have tipped his hand when he pointed out that this program would cost $150,000 in FY ’12, just .375% of Carbondale’s $40 million FY ’12 budget. If Wissmann is in, the proposal only needs the support of one more council member. Haynes will feel pressure from the black community to support the program. Even if Haynes doesn’t support is, I suspect Neill will vote with Cole.
Should the program receive the funds? I’m agnostic on the issue. I think the opponents raise some valid concerns. Some, like the lack of an escape clause or clear standards of measurement can be remedied. Others, like the idea that the city shouldn’t give money to another taxing body, cannot be overcome.
On the other hand, I think the city is trying to solve a problem that has undoubtedly stunted population growth in the city. It may not technically be the city’s responsibility, but the city government is the most competent and professional public organization in the region. If the city doesn’t act, no one will.
Comments are welcome.