Today’s column tests the mettle of two adages: The simplest solution is usually correct, and you can take the boy out of Jersey, but not vice versa.
Soon after my bride became pregnant, the search for properties in public-school districts I trusted began. Naturally, it bee-lined for the one that I thunk done learned wee me good. Does it bother me that I quickly fell into the abandon-the-city-for-better-suburban-education demographic? Sure, but things change when first baby’s on board. While Philly schools are improving, the Jersey boy adage bore true. Alas, within months of cyber-touring homes near the elementary school I ran roughshod in, the state I heart played host to political propagandists pitting citizen against teacher in a nasty-name-calling pocketbook Thunderdome. If the teachers union just took a pay freeze, we’d be back to the land of bananas foster for all, one side said. How dare they politicize an indispensable part of the next generation’s development, my mind said.
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What bothered me most about the children-as-pawns gambit was that it ignored what I’ve long considered the simplest solution: Consolidate New Jersey’s 566 incorporated communities. That means hundreds of governments, police forces and school districts driving property taxes through the bank-vault roof. “We’re at a collapse here, a breaking point,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of the year-old Courage to Connect NJ, a growing group that avers eliminating redundant positions is the best solution. A state with 100 to 150 municipalities would streamline the civic checkbook in much better fashion than continued ideological warfare. “We need a new structure that works.”
She’s right. Imagine Philadelphia with 10.5 city councils (the half being the current one), police forces and school districts. Frightening, but that’s nutshell Jersey. Sure, we have distinct problems — truancy, disinterest and, ahem, running-to-the-burbs parents — but I’m starting to think nutshell Jersey is nutshell America. Educator layoffs and program cuts grab attention as knee-jerk solutions. The new mantra: Cut the cost of basic education to cut property taxes, kids’ futures be damned. That’s why I’ve just started examining the simplest way to ensure Pennsylvania doesn’t go down the same path. What I found: Each candidate in the May 18 gubernatorial primary has a distinct education-reform position. It’s time to make them the focal issue of an unremarkable campaign or I’m Delaware-bound.
– Brian Hickey is a freelance journalist living in East Falls.
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