Sometimes the job of a journalist can be a difficult one. It isn’t always fluff and tiaras.
Yes, I’ve always enjoyed doing the stories about the innovative teacher who has her kids go on dinosaur egg hunts (watermelons) or the new store opening up or the festival that brings the whole community together. These are more fun to write, more creative avenues of sharing a community’s story.
But part of the role of the local newspaper also is to educate members of the community, to question and investigate things that affect people in the community — whether those be children caught in the Department of Social Services system who may not be able speak for themselves, or whether it be the taxpayers to make sure their dollars given to the government are spent in the most frugal and useful way.
Recently our sister paper, The Mount Airy News, did a series of stories about school merger, which we picked up and published in The Tribune since it affects the entire county. The goal was to dig into the facts — is it something that could save taxpayers money or not, will it hurt the success of the three systems already in Surry County or would it help bring even more success countywide?
This was not a random series of stories. It was sparked by the large amount of capital needs brought to the county commissioners by the three school systems and the potential funding options for those needs, whether that be a bond referendum, cuts in other areas or some other type of funding package.
Personally, I think cuts are not likely since the state and federal governments already have cut the schools down to the bare bones and continue looking at cuts for things that truly should be funded, such as teacher assistants and driver’s education. And I’m not convinced a merger of the three systems would be beneficial, a study would need to be done to determine if that is the correct course.
For many years I was the primary education beat reporter for The News. During that time, a bond referendum came up and I did a lot of research and wrote articles about each of the three school systems, their needs and went and took pictures of the building issues that were to be addressed if the referendum was approved by voters so that readers could make educated decisions at the polls.
While that bond referendum didn’t pass, it doesn’t mean the county shouldn’t try for another one if the commissioners think that is the best course to address the issues at hand, some of which are a matter of meeting handicap-accessible laws in Elkin’s case.
Fortunately, the county was able to address the prior needs within its annual budgets broken down over several phases.
The schools and the students they educate are one of the greatest assets Surry County has — among other things such as recreation, historic places, people already working in the community, agriculture and many more — and we need to make sure they have the resources, including facility needs, met to be able to continue their top education of our future leaders.
The answers to budget dilemmas aren’t always obvious, and they can be very difficult. Everyone has their own opinion on the matter, but we need to be able to trust our elected officials to make the right decisions, the most educated decisions. This is what I’ll be looking at them to do as they move forward in addressing the schools’ needs.
Wendy Byerly Wood is editor of The Tribune, The Yadkin Ripple and The Pilot. She can be reached at 336-258-4035, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.