Last updated: February 19. 2013 9:42PM - 445 Views

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WANT A QUICK fix to this region's pathetic ranking as one of the nation's worst-paying places to live? Sorry, this is a problem created over generations and there is no simple solution.

In fact, reaching for simple answers has arguably kept wages suppressed. Business tax breaks through programs like Keystone Opportunity Zones have done little more than turn the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area into a haven for distribution centers and big box retailers paying mediocre wages.

But a Times Leader Page 1A story Monday about a Forbes magazine list of average wages among 100 metro areas nationwide offered a key out of our fifth-from-the-bottom ranking: Education.

Education is the future economic development strategy, Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development Executive Director Terri Ooms told Times Leader staff writer Andrew Seder. We need to continue to promote the benefits of post-secondary education, and I'm not just talking about college. I mean community college, trade schools, industry certifications. We need to keep training our workforce.

Educational attainment determines the kind of employers drawn here. For a substantial shift in regional economy, that level has to rise.

But Ooms' comments may have inadvertently let primary and secondary education off the hook. Students throughout the system need to be truly prepared to move up the academic ladder, and fully aware of options.

While local colleges and trade schools have taken big strides in expanding internally and collaborating to help make a modern workforce, the same cannot be said for area public school districts. Many, if not most, are still rife with cronyism, nepotism and a sense of turf-protection, all traits that have held the region back since the days of coal barons.

Luzerne County has had five school board members, a well-connected Career and Technical Center employee, a superintendent and a longtime board solicitor charged with corruption. And though two of those charges were not school related, they were of the same ilk: People violating public trust and putting personal profit ahead of the greater good.

Want to pull the region out of the national wage basement? Scrutinize school board candidates beyond name recognition before giving them your votes. Demand reform and collaboration from candidates and elected board officials. Hold their feet to the fire.

They shape the education of tens of thousands of children, and as a result they, more than any other elected officials, hold our future in their hands.

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