March 8, 2013

Editorial: Even a landslide has surprises


---- — We’d be the last ones to question somebody’s vote. We’re a lot more interested in people exercising their right to vote than how they choose to exercise it.

But seeing the results of the Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School referendum this past Tuesday, we had to wonder why anyone in that district would decide against voting to fix a leaky roof on a school building.

That roof had been more than a little aggravating for a long time. On top of that, it had led to a situation in which a carpet compromised by years of wear was finished off by floodwater getting into the building.

If your roof leaks at home, you know that the longer you put off replacement, the more damage you’re going to incur to the structure and contents. It just doesn’t make any sense to set up pots and pans and feel as if you’ve solved the problem.

The state was making money available to replace the roof, offering $341,293 in regular building aid plus EXCEL (Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning) money to complete the project.

The district made clear to residents before the vote that the work would not show up at all on local tax bills.

You can argue, of course, that government money is the people’s money, no matter which level gives it away. We’re all paying for state funding, just as surely as we’re paying for local appropriations.

But there are two factors at work on that point: District taxpayers pay a lot less individually when all taxpayers across the state pitch in via state aid. And, if ELCS doesn’t claim the aid for a vital project such as a leaky roof, somebody else will, and the local taxpayers will not only lose out on critical building work, they’ll be helping pay for somebody else’s.

Does anybody truly believe the quality of education isn’t diminished when the roof on a school building leaks?

Yet the vote on this proposition was “only” 142-16. Certainly that is about as decisive an outcome as you could expect. A 9-1 result surely reflects the importance the people placed on this project, as well as the opportunism felt by capitalizing on state aid.

But we have to wonder what those 16 voters against the project were thinking.

Sometimes people have a grudge against a district for reasons unrelated to spending. Or sometimes they just want to make a statement that they are against any kind of use of taxpayer dollars.

In any school vote, though, it’s important to consider need, cost and value — and to make the smartest decision for the future.