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School district voters have an opportunity to determine direction of education

Today is election day for suburban and small city school districts. Voters in 37 districts in Erie and Niagara counties will be electing school board members and deciding on school budgets. In many districts, propositions are also on the ballot, some involving millions of dollars in additional spending.

Nearly every proposed budget keeps spending increases within the state’s property tax cap, one reason these budgets have generated less heat than in previous years.

The decisions made today will have an impact on education far into the future. School district residents should take time today to go to their voting station and carefully consider the issues before casting their ballots.

In Lancaster, unfortunately, a side issue is overshadowing the vote. Lancaster residents should not allow what amounts to an effort by a small number of wrong-thinking residents to take the focus off the main issues of the budget and millions of dollars in capital improvement projects and place it back on attempts to restore a racially insensitive nickname recently banished by the School Board.

The term Redskins has evolved over the years since it was first used in Lancaster so that now the nickname and mascot represent a racial slur. A nickname that is now unacceptable has been eliminated by most high schools and colleges. The NFL’s Washington Redskins stubbornly refuses to let go of its “tradition,” but the league has a long way to go in a number of areas.

Because some people in Lancaster refuse to let go of the controversy, residents have been forced to revisit the issue in the contest for two open School Board seats.

Never mind the nearly $100 million operating budget, a capital project of $57.3 million for an artificial turf field, fieldhouse upgrades, a black box theater and an art gallery for the high school, and nearly a million dollars for new school buses.

The fact that two alumni who were vocal in the effort to keep the Redskins name are trying to unseat two board members up for re-election shouldn’t be the motivating factor in getting people to the polls. A fifth candidate is running on a platform that involves the scrum over high-stakes state testing.

While the three challengers don’t mention the Redskins nickname, they talk about a need for more transparency and better communication with the community. That seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to disguise dissatisfaction with the board’s action in retiring the nickname.

Continuing to focus on what has already been decided and making it an issue in the School Board race distract from what is important in Lancaster: the budget and capital projects.

Administrators and district leaders are understandably concerned that folks will show up not to vote after careful consideration of these important matters but, instead, fueled by lingering anger, vote down the budget. There would be no logic in such a negative response, which would do nothing but hurt the students.

We are not taking a stand either way in the Lancaster vote, just asking residents to cast their votes for the right reasons.

Former superintendents have expressed dismay at the threat to the budget, speaking of the impact on programs and students. At some point, the future of the children who have to live with the consequences of a defeated budget should come in to play.