For a number of students in both Mifflin and Juniata counties the new school year hasn't exactly gotten off to a flying start, and their parents are not happy about it.
Continuing renovations at Indian Valley Elementary and Intermediate School became a cause of major concern for Mifflin County parents who felt conditions in the building were unsafe for students. In Juniata County, a plan intended to streamline bus routes and save taxpayer dollars appears to have too many students riding too few buses for way too much time.
In both cases, school officials have said their primary concern is the health and safety of their students, and they've clearly been scrambling to make improvements. But we're sure many parents are still scratching their heads over unanswered questions: Why did this have to happen? Why weren't these issues squared away before the first day of school? Why wasn't our school district better prepared?
To be fair, the respective school boards and administrations have been actively seeking ways to reduce costs in an effort to avoid major tax increases. There continues to be debate over the best ways to accomplish this, and while the results have been less than satisfactory so far this year, we feel school officials deserve some benefit of the doubt regarding their intentions.
But then there's the matter of accountability. School district administrators are hired employees who receive salaries funded by the taxpayers. School board directors are public officials elected by county residents, the majority of whom are taxpayers. In theory, at least, administrators answer to school boards, and school boards answer to the voters/taxpayers.
Those voters and taxpayers - in the form of concerned parents, grandparents and neighbors - have certainly stepped forward to make their thoughts and concerns known. Dozens of parents and supporters flocked to the Mifflin County School Board meeting on Aug. 22, and in Juniata County so many residents flooded the school district with calls and emails that administrators had to open up more phone lines.
At IVEIS, one parent suggested forming a parent committee to address concerns directly to the school without having to first go through the administration. This idea is not without merit and should be further explored. But if memory serves, isn't this the role that parent-teacher associations used to fulfill? It seems that we've somehow gotten away from that.
And perhaps therein lies the real solution.
Perhaps each school should form it's own parent committee, and those committees can select individuals to regularly attend school board meetings throughout the entire year - not just when problems occur. Parent representatives could regularly ask to be placed on the agenda to bring concerns before the school board, and actively seek resolutions to these types of situations before they become problems.
Some parents may feel that they've been snubbed by school district officials in the past, so what's the point? Well, as we've seen this week, school officials have certainly responded to the combined voices of parents united in a purpose. What it took was leadership, persistence and a little tact, and we were glad to see parents stepping up to lead the way.
Because, in a democratic society, the best way to hold elected officials and hired administrators of any kind accountable is to be actively and deliberately involved in the process - all of the time.