New appointment disappoints with ‘gift’ comments

editorial, Daily Local News, 3/30/11

Students, teachers, school staff, district administrators, and those who care deeply about what goes on in classrooms in the West Chester Area School District got another dose of disappointing news this week when the school board voted to appoint local businesswoman Karen S. Miller to fill the board’s ninth seat and give a majority to those board members who have proven themselves enemies of quality public education.

Miller, who seems to have no experience as a public school advocate or elected official, demonstrated her apparent antipathy towards those the school are designed to serve in comments she made after the board’s 7-1 vote to appoint her to replace outgoing member John Wingerter.

After expressing surprise and gratitude for her appointment, Miller, a member of an organization called the Pennsylvania Conservative Council – founded by local supporters of failed presidential candidate John McCain in 2009 — explained why she had sought appointment to the board and in doing so revealed her attitude towards public education.

“I (applied) because I think that education is a gift,” said Miller. “Right now (the district) has some major challenges and I think that with my background I’m capable of helping.”

She said Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget is one of the challenges facing the school district. Like many school board members in West Chester and elsewhere, Miller said every aspect of the school system would have to be re-evaluated.

“We have to learn to do with less. If the money’s not there, it’s not there,” Miller said.

Miller is mistaken. Education is not a gift from the government. It is a right that each child in Pennsylvania is entitled to, regardless of their socio-economic status or geographic location. For Miller to suggest that access to an education is somehow like a Christmas present that should be dressed up or slimmed down based on how much is available in the family savings account is to completely misread what the value of a public education is. A gift is something one can take away, or not give; an education is something that our children are owed.

Miller, 55, of East Goshen, has already been endorsed by the school district’s Republican committee for school director. In addition to her work with the Conservative Council, Miller is a financial officer of Fitzpatrick-Fanning Corp., a real estate development and property management firm in Downingtown.

Wingerter was considered to be the swing vote on the board, whose eight other members were halved into two distinct camps: one side holding fiscal conservatism in esteem and transmitting the idea that the district must curb its spending while the other arguing the investment is necessary to guarantee the students’ best interests. But Wingerter said most board members have had diverse voting records during his tenure.

It is true that tough challenges are ahead this year for all those who receive services from taxpayer funds. We think that the worst thing our public servants could do is to shortchange the future of the people who will make up the leaders of our society in years to come. That means trying to find the best way to insure that our students continue to receive the best and brightest education that is available, and not to shortchange them. Not to do so would be worse than shortsighted.

We regret that Miller may not be the person who is best equipped to understand or accept this.