PROPOSED: THE Wilkes-Barre Area School District should render the debate about funding the Meyers Speech and Debate Team moot by using $20,000 out of this year's $7 million surplus.
Discussion: An explanation of how the school board decided in June to cut the annual $20,000 support would be enlightening but is irrelevant. When 25 debate team supporters made their appeal to restore the funding at Monday's board meeting, it became clear the board made the cut without comprehending the consequences.
Interim Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak conceded he lacked any real understanding of what the team does. Team founders and head coaches Kim and Ruth Borland expressed understandable disbelief, as the team's recurring successes are routinely reported in area newspapers.
Board member James Susek said the board needed an accounting of the money. Ruth Borland offered to provide receipts for the last 15 years, since the team was created. She also said an attempt to run the spending through the school's activities fund was rejected by the school as "too much trouble."
Both Prevuznak and Board President Maryanne Toole expressed shock and surprise that the Borlands had not been notified of the defunding. To be sure, the Borlands bear some blame. Proposed cuts in the district funding – which makes up less than a third of the team's total budget – are a biennial event. When new board members are elected, someone almost always sees the $20,000 for a debate team as expendable. The support shown Monday needed to occur during the budgeting process and meetings conducted earlier this year.
But the supporters provided overwhelming evidence of the value of the investment: college scholarships, analytic and interview skills that proved invaluable in landing jobs, and a politeness and persuasiveness the board should yearn to see instilled in every student.
Conclusion: It is obvious the board needs to better understand the team, and the team needs to explain itself to the board. The team's numerous state and national successes reflect extremely well on the district while creating top-shelf citizens. The board justifiably pinches pennies in this age of austerity, but there is more than enough money to provide the $20,000 this year to a team that has an all-volunteer coaching staff.
Use the surplus this year, and sit down with the Borlands to figure out how to either continue the funding next year through small cuts elsewhere or how to curb the district's contribution without harming the success of the team.
It is obvious the board needs to better understand the team, and the team needs to explain itself to the board.