Voters in Columbia County spoke loudly and clearly July 20 with their responses to a slew of non-binding ballot questions.
They want foreign language instruction in elementary school. But not if they have to pay for it.
On second thought, may-be it's not so clear, like John Kerry's "I voted for the war before I voted against the war" doublespeak.
On the Republican ballots, just over 65 percent of voters approve of the school system "moving forward" with a K-5 foreign language instruction program. Nearly 60 percent of Democrats, however, said they don't want to raise property taxes to fund it.
Because the questions on the two ballots were different, and because the central office of the school system really doesn't want to fool with expanding a program that some schools don't even want (think old dogs, new tricks), it's highly unlikely the July 20 vote will swing school officials to action.
But if they could look a little deeper, they might see that voters really do want elementary foreign language instruction -- and that they're willing to pay for it, too.
Even in a society bombarded with the idea of something for nothing, citizens understand that good stuff has to be paid for. And school officials say an elementary foreign language program would take a lot of paying, potentially in the millions at full staffing.
Skittish about the public reception and needing a moistened finger to stick into the breeze, school system officials wrote the poll question that was readily adopted by the county's Democrats. They had expected Republicans to use the same wording, but instead the GOP eliminated the Democrats' mention of a tax increase to fund foreign language.
The outcome may have been more definitive if the same question were asked on both ballots, but there really isn't much difference between Columbia County's Republicans and Democrats. The results of either question would have been about the same on either ballot.
What we find from combining the outcomes, then, is that voters believe elementary foreign language is good. But they don't want their taxes hiked to pay for it.
Rather than meaning the program is now impossible -- as some in the school system are happy to do -- the outcome could simply mean the money should be found in other places.
One place we could have looked was the nearly $300,000 spent on air-conditioning school buses. Sure, it's a one-time expense; but the school system barely flinched at that money. It would have been enough to start the foreign language program immediately.
But what if they suggested a tax increase anyway? The school system already is far behind the rest of the state in per-pupil expenditures; we're getting a champagne school system with a beer budget. It wouldn't hurt us to spend a few more bucks upgrades.
Sadly, those schizophrenic ballot responses will allow school officials to instead say, "Gee, everyone wants it, but we just don't have the money to pay for it."
Which sounds, in the end, like we were for it before we were against it.
Perdue tightens belt
I've had my differences with Gov. Sonny Perdue in the past couple of years, but you have to give him credit for fiscal responsibility.
For years, conservatives have bashed Georgia's Legislature for piling money into a phony "emergency" fund for the governor's discretionary use. Ex-Gov. Roy Barnes was particularly promiscuous in spending the money in the districts of favored lawmakers.
Perdue brought the gravy train to a halt. For the second year in a row, he's returned money to the state treasury after failing to find a suitable emergency to spend it on.
Sure, I could have suggested he send the money here for elementary foreign language. But if not here, nowhere is a good plan, too.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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