Keystone must get its fiscal house in order

With all of the very difficult, 2018-19 budget decisions facing the Keystone Central School District and the greater school community of parents, students, residents, voters and taxpayers, first and foremost the school board must get its fiscal house in order.

Runaway retirement, benefit and salary costs have come home to roost in Keystone, just as in other public districts across Pennsylvania.

These skyrocketing costs as allowed by Pennsylvania lawmakers over the years and by labor contracts negotiated by school boards and unions are just not sustainable against limited state and federal subsidies and the need for reasonable local tax rates.

This is not an attack on teachers.

It’s the black and white of a man-made budget crisis that is forcing the local school board and the community to re-examine its educational priorities.

Kudos, meanwhile, to Keystone Central Task Force members.

Based on the lengthy list of cost-cutting options they presented recently to the board, members of the task force did their jobs.

And we know — because of the financial reality of district expenses moving forward — many of the task force members did not like the options they had to present.

None of us do.

Closing one or more schools.

Cutting programs.

Charging students more for activities.

Imagine trying to find $10 million in budget cuts amid a plethora of state and federally-mandated programs, five union contracts, a considerable number of special education students and a huge number of economically disadvantaged students, all going to 10 school buildings in the largest geographical district in Pennsylvania.

The school board meets tonight to hear details of the administration’s preliminary, 2018-19 budget that amounts to just over $82 million but is far short of revenues to cover expenses.

There are no easy answers.

The buck stops with the school board.

But we encourage the school board to continue to engage task force members.

Teachers and staff also should be a part of discussions on how to move forward.

Clearly, teachers in particular would have to weigh in if the school board chooses to pursue any of the cost-cutting options that impact terms of their current four-year contract … a contract, by the way, that was just ratified last Dec. 1.

There is one thing that has to change in Keystone: How parents, students, faculty, staff and the community at large talk about our schools.

Sure, there are frustrations … there are things that should be done differently.

But it’s easy to complain … to criticize. Too many of us do it.

The quality of local schools — or the lack thereof — directly affects the quality of communities.

Our schools are what we make them.

We all should want people to move here because we have good local schools. And don’t believe for one second that educational quality has nothing to do with where people live.

At the same time, we all should want real estate taxes to be reasonable so the cost of living here — the cost of buying a home and raising a family — is within most people’s reach.

The future of public education here and elsewhere is better served through a collaborative decision-making process that helps to guide the school board — and the collective community — to the best possible decisions.

And let us not forget: When it comes to education, schools are certainly important, but families are more important.