To the editor:
We all are aware that the county commissioners have sought additional revenues for the county budget. We also may be aware that they asked the Moffat County School Board in August to consider paying a portion of the salary of the County Natural Resources Department director who is devoting increased time to negotiating oil/gas leases with oil companies that want to access subsurface oil and gas on lands where the subsurface mineral rights are owned by the county. The commissioners reasoned that, because by state law 55 percent of leasing fees a county receives from giving access to its subsurface-owned minerals must be distributed to its local school district, such a school district should be willing to underwrite development of those subsurface properties.
The concern is that such a proposal would begin to reverse the responsibility relationship that has been in place in the Constitution between public government and free public education. The proposal also would put school boards into the whirlpool of the business world, where whether or not to develop subsurface resources is affected by uncontrollable exterior -- even global -- factors, and by private business dealings for profit.
In American history, a priority for a democratic society has been to establish and support a public education system that could be affordable (free) to all only by mutual adherence by all adults to a concept of property and business taxes, equitably assessed by government, and redistributed for education, public services and local government.
In our contemporary mix of powerful business, supported by tax loopholes and government subsidies, in co-existence with masses of citizens with far lesser opportunities and supports, protected free and public education becomes even more crucial to democratic hope. Our publicly elected school boards, and even boards of regents of public universities, are the protectors of that education opportunity. If they use wisely and equitably the property and business taxes they receive from government, these school boards should not be asked to pay the government component of the social contract a fee to encourage it to fulfill its responsibility to collect and disburse taxes.
While the frustration of county commissioners about the extra costs of trying to attract more tax- or fee-producing industries to the county is understandable, public school boards are our society's only focused and uncompromised protectors of the core democratic right of education.
That central responsibility cannot be exposed to a less-than-central position.