IF YOU LIVE in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and want your voice heard on next year’s budget, speak up now, tonight, 5 p.m., at the Wilkes-Barre Area School District administration building, 730 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre.
Continuing what has been an underattended but highly laudable effort launched a few years ago, the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board budget and finance committee is seeking public input as it shapes the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, running from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014.
It is true that, in the end, the public comments and suggestions are exactly that. The board has final say on what the tax rate will be, how much will be spent and what programs and positions will be funded. But these meetings are a chance to offer input months before that decision is made (a final budget must be passed by June 30, preceded by a preliminary budget passed about a month earlier).
But lest anyone doubt the potential value of a single voice, remember that this board has become fundamentally divided along several fault lines, including the level of willingness to raise taxes. It is conceivable that a well-made argument could sway a swing vote on an issue important to you.
It is also true that the board is on course to losing a member and seeking a replacement. Robert Corcoran took a multi-year job in Germany, eliminated any physical residence in the district and briefly attempted to retain his seat through his term (expiring in December) by participating in February’s meeting through an Internet Skype connection.
But that plan prompted tumultous board debate and drew the investigative eye of the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, poised to evaluate the legality of Corcoran’s thin claim to mandatory district “residency.” According to Board President John Quinn, Corcoran has signaled his intent to stop attending meetings via Skype. He missed Monday’s meeting, and if he misses the April meeting the board can — and, Quinn promised, will — vote to oust him as is its legal right if a member misses two consecutive meetings without strong cause.
The board could legally vote for a replacement without seeking candidates, but Quinn suggested that is not the way he would prefer to go. If true, the board would set a date for applications, then vote among that pool of contenders.
A divided board with eight members … A chance for residents to land a seat on the board through November … And all during the crucial budget-making months of spring in an election year? Conditions seem ripe for these public budget meetings to have greater weight than cynics might expect.
So consider showing up for tonight’s meeting. Candidates running for the four board seats should, in particular, show up, but this is a chance to let your voice be heard.