New Castle News

New Castle

August 29, 2012

Our Opinion: City school district reverses course on janitorial position

NEW CASTLE — The vote totals may change on the New Castle school board, but the fundamental issue remains the same.

This is a district that must be sensitive to fiscal realities. Officials must do everything in their power to control costs. Whatever funds the district has in reserve is beside the point.

Last week, we commented on a 5-4 vote by the New Castle school board to reject the hiring of a janitor in the district. Superintendent George Gabriel asked that the post be filled, but — claiming it wasn’t in the budget, combined with the fact the district is spending more money than it’s taking in — some board members balked and the hiring was blocked.

We praised that decision, based on the concept of fiscal prudence. We support efforts to promote efficiency and find ways to make do in the public school system. The private sector does it all the time.

But a 5-4 vote against a job in the New Castle school district is a virtual invitation to try again. Last week, that’s exactly what happened at a special meeting, And the position was approved.

The janitor job wasn’t on the agenda for that meeting, but board member Mary Ann Tofel — who originally voted against the hiring — brought it up and changed her vote. Interestingly, all four board members who had supported the hiring were at the special meeting, while the remaining four who opposed it didn’t attend.

In defending the position last week, Gabriel said the board was presented with alternatives that received no support. He argued the position is necessary to ensure sanitary conditions in all city schools.

Obviously, we don’t want a dangerous situation for students and staff in the school system. Yet we also know it’s easy to resort to creating another job and more spending when the taxpayers ultimately cover the tab.

In the great scheme of things, this job makes barely a ripple in the district’s overall budget. But the discussions surrounding it represent a critical question in this community: How much service can New Castle afford?

We note that Gabriel rejects the argument that the New Castle district is not deficit spending. However, he acknowledges this year’s budget required tapping into the district’s cash reserve to make ends meet. To put it bluntly, that’s not a sustainable way of doing business.

New Castle’s $14 million cash reserve comes courtesy of taxpayers. It’s not savings and it’s not the result of cost cutting. Property owners in the district have been taxed substantially over the years to create this cushion. Now it’s starting to wear away.

In a city that’s fiscally distressed, we think school officials need to do all they can to minimize the burden on a shrinking tax base. To ignore the long-term consequences of such taxation is destructive to the community and its school system.

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