Monday, September 26, 2005

Dover Downs: Fragmented Gov't Cuts More Ways than One

In a Harrisburg Courthouse today, Dover School District will face off against 1,000 years of the corrupting influences of the Enlightenment. Though honesty, truth and reason rarely get a fair shake on the banks of the Susquehanna, hopefully this ruling will smack the zealot back into his cave.

Dover is one of 501 school districts in our balkanized, Byzantine Commonwealth run by a locally elected school board. The 20k citizens of Dover, with a median income of $45k, are solidly blue collar. Though church attendance is high in this rural area, college attendance is not: only 11% of residents have a bachelors degree or better. Statistically, Dover could be in York, Berks or Allegheny County: its par for the course. How is it then, that somewhere between Radnor and Edgewood, reason gives way to darkness. Underneath the unbroken canopy of trees you see from your $39 seat on Southwest flight from Pgh to Philly, you've got a Gun Toting, Bible Thumping Friend in Central Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania's fragmented government includes thousands of feifdoms from which any fringe element might decide to seize control: for personal interest, ideology or enrichment. School District elections are decided at the poorly attended primary races. Only 528 votes (10%) separated the top and bottom vote-getters at the May Primary for Sto-Rox; only 945 (10%) in the high-profile Mt. Lebanon race. As a result, schools are operated through the closed circuts of local politics. All too often, this means boards focused more on intrigue and personal pettiness than good government.

Consolidated government might help to beat back the absurdity we now see in Dover. Though this religious fringe is a potent force in Central PA, it is by no means the majority. Parents can love God and Sanity at the same time, and few would agree their children should learn about the Dinosaurs and Unicorns on Noah's Ark in a Biology Class. A larger school district would likely be harder for insane groups of religious wackos to seize in an electoral coup. We should consider this as Pennsylvania's name is sullied on presses from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.

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