The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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February 17, 2013

OUR VIEW: Corbett’s schools plan should focus on mergers

---- — Plans by Gov. Tom Corbett to give proceeds from the proposed sale of state liquor stores to public schools sounds like a vintage idea.

But when looking at the details there’s more than just a few sour grapes here.

Corbett’s plan is to close Pennsylvania’s roughly 600 state wine and spirits stores and get the state out of the wholesale booze enterprise.

He would auction off 1,200 wine and liquor retail licenses to the private sector, allocated by county and divided among large and small stores.  

Further, he’s seeking to expand beer and wine sales, allowing large retailers, drug stores and supermarkets to buy an unlimited number of licenses to sell beer and wine. Convenience stores could purchase beer-only licenses.

Liquor taxes would be left untouched and beer and tavern owners would be offered ways to expand their retail offerings.

And, at long last, it would allow Pennsylvanian’s to have wine shipped to their homes from out-of-state wineries.

As an enticement, Corbett said he would fork over the one-time bounty, around $1 billion, from the liquor store sales to the state’s 500 school districts. In a strange way Corbett is trying to convince people the way to improve school districts is to allow the sale of state liquor stores.

There’s a better way.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell once floated the idea of whacking down the number of school districts in the state from 500 to 100. Of course, such a grand scheme went nowhere and the concept quickly faded away.

While Corbett has hinted he would be in favor of school mergers, he hasn’t come out publicly and said so in a straightforward way.

So far the governor has cracked the whip on state universities and colleges getting state funds – with some justification.

In recent decades Pennsylvania institutions of higher education, like the rest of the nation, have seen their tuitions rise about twice the rate of inflation.

It seems the more these institutions get in taxpayer dollars the more they have to charge students.

If the governor really wants to do something for school districts he would find a way to entice them – if not outright force them – to merge. But let’s tell it like it is.

There is no way the state is going to go from 500 districts to 100 in one fell swoop. Why not try to get the number down to 400, or even 450? At least somehow, someway get the number reduced.

We have long stated the five school districts in the Shenango Valley is too many given the declining student enrollment. If Corbett is really interested in improving education, he will find a way to get at least two of the valley’s districts to merge.

If the state can’t find a way to get a merger in our valley - then we’ll know there’s no interest in merging any schools in the state.

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