The eyes of Pennsylvania are turned on Philadelphia s Main Line. The fabled land of mansions, the stuff of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn featuring some of the richest names in real estate: Bryn Mawr, Villanova and Haverford, is apparently laced with spies.
Not the CIA, KGB or James Bond kind of spies, these are the Lower Merion School District kind.
It seems a student, while at home, misbehaved in front of his school issued laptop computer. Confronted in school about the error of his ways by an assistant principal the lad did what teenagers do: he denied the allegations. Supposedly the principal produced a photo of his indiscretion that was taken from his laptop by an installed camera that was remotely activated by the school district. The notion of home schooling can be attractive but who would want 600 teachers to have eyeball access at their fingertips to your bedroom?
The Main Line s Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County is undoubtedly one of Pennsylvania s wealthiest. Its proposed budget for next year is on the table at $201 million. Rough equations put that number at about $29,000 per student. In contrast the county seat s cash strapped Norristown School District can only spend about half that amount.
This leads us to stage two of the tales of the Main Line caper. According to a statement published by the district s superintendent all 2300 Lower Merion High School students were given laptops fueled by state grants. Why would state grants be given to one of the wealthiest school districts in Pennsylvania when many urban and rural schools have little or no computer access?
The inequities of public education in Pennsylvania are linked to the state s failure to offer parents any choices, an antiquated, expensive system of property taxes and in Lower Merion s case seemingly at least one camera spy.
It looks like the camera caper will be sorted out by the Montgomery County District Attorney and the FBI. But the sadder chapter is that Governor Rendell rode into office nearly 8 years ago promising real education reform and real property tax reform. He better get moving on it someday soon, he only has a few months left to honor those commitments.
Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation with offices in Harrisburg and King Of Prussia. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania. Receipt of this commentary is permission to publish as by-lined op-ed only. [email protected]
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