What does the construction of a mountain made of New Jersey trash and the pending financial collapse of a school district have in common?
I was pondering the above while commenting on two articles in the Sunday edition of the Scranton Times-Tribune and this is what came to me: Bread and Circuses(1).
NEPA is the ultimate land of "Bread and Circuses". People will gladly be disinterested in what will harm their children (and their children's children)(2) just as long as they can get beer at the local quickie mart, nothing interferes with the local high school football game on Friday night, and they have politicians & well-off business people to admire (and name things after).
We see it all around us...you don't need to look too far to see the lunar landscapes of culm banks that can be found all over NEPA. And in the countless buildings and things named for politicians and those wealthy few who greased politicians for years in exchange for favors that served narrow economic interests. That's okay though because those in power figured out generations ago that the residents of NEPA can be bought on the cheap. Just dangle the prospect of some trickle down power, money or influence and just about anything in the area can be overlooked.
In the department of things overlooked, the Scranton School District (SSD) has been slowly sliding into receivership for years now, all while those who actually voted in the city continued to elect under or non-qualified leaders. Now that the warning signs of impending doom have nearly made sports score sized fonts in the local newspaper, the leaders of the SSD are considering a few drastic steps, such as the elimination of some under-utilized educational programs. To the best of my knowledge though, there have been no public discussions about tackling the costs of sports programs. Pun intended. Why? See above: Bread and Circuses.
Speaking of high school sports in general and football in particular, let me clear up two misconceptions about that seem to abound when it comes to the local "gridiron":
(1) High school football does not pay for itself. In fact, that's a fiscal impossibility. Game attendance couldn't even cover the cost of maintaining the stadium any school plays in, let alone the costs of insurance, transportation, equipment, manpower, etc.
(2) Very, very few high school football players actually get college scholarships. How few? According to THIS ARTICLE, about 2%. So much for "but football is needed because it's the only way some kids can afford to go to college".
I have nothing against high school sports as long as they don't impede the actual reason for high schools to exist in the first place, namely the education of every student.
Finally, generations of NEPA residents have down-right admired the powerful and the connected. It's almost Stockholm Syndrome worthy if you ask me. I wonder what the local economy would be like if local politicians and other civic interests were as supportive of every private business as they are of those run, for example, by the landfill family? The economy would be booming, as opposed to perpetually sitting at the bottom of Pennsylvania. Thank god for Altoona. I have nothing against that particular family, by the way; I just wish they weren't trying to build a mountain of out-of-state trash. Yet there are supporters of the landfill expansion. That particular family has done a lot for the region, don't you know.
Maybe, just maybe, things might be changing. Maybe a younger generation will see beyond the parochial interests of immediate gratification and understand that some things come at too high of a cost. Maybe a few brave souls will step up at the Scranton School Board and make truly difficult...and no doubt unpopular...choices to reduce the costs of non-educational activities. Maybe I'm dreaming, but hey, there's always hope.
(1) If you're unfamiliar with the concept of "bread and circuses", well, read HERE.
(2) Even worse that culm banks, the proposed mountain of trash will exist forever.