Not enough participation

Published 8:03 pm Saturday, December 11, 2010

The beginning of this year’s school budget process looked strikingly similar to last year’s.

The School Board held the obligatory “public input session” to receive public comment on the budget before beginning to develop it. Only one person — the president of the Education Association of Suffolk — showed up this year with a modest wish list in hand. Last year’s initial public input session was similar, with only a handful of people showing up to express their thoughts.

Unlike last year, however, we hope this year’s school budgeting process does not develop into the circus that occurred last winter. That process unfolded with dire predictions of a massive shortage of money, recommendations to close schools and cut programs and a second public meeting at King’s Fork High School’s theater that brought so many teachers, parents, students and community members that it attracted the attention of the fire marshal.

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In the end, though, it seems the panic was unnecessary. No teachers received raises, but the school system’s budget request was fully funded by the city and there were no school closures — though some of those recommendations remain on the table.

One wonders why, after last year’s panic, only one person arrived in front of the School Board this week to request consideration. The hearing began at 7 p.m., plenty of time for most people with regular work hours to attend.

There are those who believe that nobody shows up to give their input in Suffolk because they believe their government has already made its decisions before it hears the wishes of the people.

In some cases, that may be true. But in this case, some calmly expressed wishes on the front end of the process would have been a lot better than panic halfway through the process.