Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Look and see how local schools are spending your money

On Monday morning, March 9, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., local taxpayers are invited to tour the Wood River Middle School and the newer Woodside Elementary School.

The tour will start at the elementary school at 8 a.m. with Blaine County School District administrators in the lead. Anyone who wants to participate has only to show up.

It's an unusual invitation that taxpayers should welcome. Taxpayers include everyone who owns or rents property in Blaine County because the schools are funded primarily by local property taxes.

In this time of economic distress, it's acutely clear that good education is key to the nation's success. The U.S. needs well-educated, hard-working individuals to chart a way out of the mess and to reinvent the country over time.

The nation's strong foundation is built student by student in schools just like ours. Yet, while the state of our schools is a popular topic for politicians and dinner conversations, it's a rare thing to get to see and talk to administrators and teachers informally about the how and why of what goes on inside school walls.

Parents with children in the local school system may develop an intimate knowledge of the schools. However, focused as they are on each child's situation, parents sometimes fail to understand the big picture—the challenges that face educators and why certain strategies are undertaken to meet those challenges.

Taxpayers without children in school often operate with the barest information about local schools and 21st-century education. They know only that the Blaine County School District is the largest taxing district in the county, with a total budget of $72.8 million.

They know that the lion's share of the checks they write for property taxes goes to local schools. They know that when a new school is needed, the district asks them to go to the polls to approve new taxes to pay for it.

That's usually the last they hear from the schools, with the exception of the annual announcement that expenses are going up.

The Blaine County Education Foundation, a local nonprofit that helps support programs in local schools, organized next week's tours to offer a look at local K-12 education.

The tours are a great idea and a good step toward generating a closer relationship between taxpayers and the public schools. Taxpayers will get a chance to see what they're paying for and to find out what's ahead for the schools.

Local taxpayers should support the tours by showing up.

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