Stranger Danger: Scranton City Political Action Committee
May 15, 2015

Political Action Committees (PACs) and their larger cousins, SuperPACs, infuse money into politics on behalf of candidates and ideologies. Simple enough concept, right?  If Mr. Billionaire wants candidate X to win, Mr. Billionaire donates a fortune to a PAC and influences an election.  Except that Mr. Billionaire doesn’t necessarily have to put his name anywhere, since PAC donations can be anonymous if the PAC has a companion non-profit 501(c)(4).

Well, Scranton, listen up:  There’s a new game in town!  The Scranton City Political Action Committee. Now, we all know that money is the single largest corrupting influence in politics.  That’s a given.  And PACs basically ensure that special interest groups and shadowy businessmen run the show.  I’m middle class, I’m not forking over millions.  You, dear reader, are not either.  Who runs this particular show?  Not sure.  I saw four names in the caption of a picture in the Times.  What are their long-term goals?  Generic. Everybody wants a better everything.  What kind of candidates will they endorse?  Quality candidates. Who doesn’t vote thinking the choice is qualified?

All we really have to go on to determine motivation — stated, implied, or otherwise — is the article from the Times.  Some of you may have noticed that I’m naturally suspicious of everyone and everything, especially when it comes to politics and money. It didn’t take long for red flags to start popping up.

Money quote:  “We’re aware that they’ll say, ‘Hey, this is an elitist group, they got people contributing up to $5,000, they don’t live in the city, their kids don’t even go to the public schools,’ all kind of assaults.”  

So… we know they they are elitist, wealthy, not from Scranton, and send their kids to private schools.  The exact opposite of the average Scrantonian (especially since Scrantonians live in Scranton, fancy that). And what do they want to tell Scrantonians?  “Hey, we’re trying to alert you, the apathetic electorate, to wake up and realize the importance of your public officials.”  That’s an actual quote from the article. Thanks, rich guys, for telling us poor, apathetic, ignorant people how awful we’ve been for not voting for people you prefer.

Geeze.  Off to a good start, huh?

But what do they believe?  What do they stand for?

Let’s take a look at the pledge candidates have to sign in order to get an endorsement (and the money that endorsement entails).

The pledge:

  • Be civil and professional.
  • Institute a stringent anti-nepotism policy.
  • Promote an ethics policy for directors.
  • Freeze all new hires not authorized by current labor contracts to control expenses.
  • Adopt a standard bidding policy for vendors.
  • Reduce the number of employees through attrition (not hiring if someone leaves a district job).
  • Establish eligibility and ranking lists for supervisory personnel for review before promotions.
  • Be fiscally responsible while improving the quality of education.

I recently watched George Carlin’s wonderful analysis of the Ten Commandments.  He talked about how most of them are unnecessary and can be reduced easily and quickly.  (Watch if you’re inclined, he’s amazing.)  So, in order to find out what the real agenda of SCPAC is, let’s go through the list and see what we can eliminate using simple logic.  Warning: I can (and will) nitpick.

Here goes:  Of course anybody would agree to be civil, not hire brothers and sisters, and be ethical.  One, two, and three gone.  Every person on earth wants to be fiscally responsible while improving anything! Have hiring standards for administrators?  They exist.  Last two are gone. Final nitpick: The state has legal guidelines for bidding procedures for vendors, so that’s not really necessary.  Fifth one is gone. Most of these are common sense anybody would agree to and are, therefore, window-dressing that distracts us from what’s really going on.  That leaves us with the two bullet points that explain what the PAC wants, which is an austerity program.  (Look at how well Tom Corbett’s austerity program for Pennsylvania education has worked.)

How do they defined “fiscal responsibility” here?  By not replacing people who retire or leave the district.  I ran for School Board once.  I would never sign this dangerous pledge.  If the Latin teacher leaves, these people are explicitly requiring signers to eliminate the Latin program.  That’s offensive to me as an educator, former School Board candidate, and future parent (note: it’s not happening any time soon, but I hope to one day have, like, fifteen kids).  Saving money through program and personnel reduction guarantees that districts will perform worse.

Districts need to replace retiring teachers and, sometimes, create new positions.  This program ensures that the district will not expand, grow, or meet the changing needs of its population.  It’s a guarantee of failure.  That new STEM school initiative the county is talking about?  No way, according to SCPAC.  Ever since the mess of No Child Left Behind, I’ve watched education grow worse by the year.  There is only one group that benefits from a poorly-educated populace: the group that wants to control it.  In America, that tends to be the millionaires and billionaires who own the country.  So I take assaults on education, which this group undoubtedly intends, very seriously.

Look at this:  Too often, he said, school directors, who receive no pay, decide they’re entitled to other benefits such as hiring relatives or friends.  This is followed by, “What we’re trying to do is eliminate that and have people committed to the role of the education of our kids,” he said.  

The thesis is: school directors are corrupt because they aren’t paid.  The solution is: let’s give them money! That sounds like buying somebody off, which is just about as corrupt as the nepotism this group claims to be so concerned about.  When its representative said they’d be subject to “all kinds of assaults” he was right on the money because, as it stands, these people deserve to be scrutinized, criticized, and held to account.

Buying people off to impress upon the Scranton School District an era of  intentionally stunted and stymied growth is not a recipe for success.  Be wary of the Scranton City Political Action Committee.



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