Straight Talk: Schools – Imperative to Intergovernmental Cooperation for Sustainable Communities
In the quest for building great communities, leaders in Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Sustainable Community Development Network focus on solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities, both of which are many. Among challenges is the fragmented jurisdiction of governance on matters that are interconnected and material to livable communities.
In the competition for ratables (properties that provide tax base for local government), the communities with high quality of life win. What is the most important attribute of a community whose quality of life contributes to a robust and growing tax base? Quality of schools is among top factors. Not just school buildings, grounds, and amenities, but more importantly, it is having the best teachers and equitable student outcomes.
School Districts and their municipalities are interdependent in securing a quality of community life that attracts and retains residents and investment. Yet their independent administrations and lack of formal routine structures for shared planning and strategy are too often a hindrance. The PA Intergovernmental Cooperation Act allows for municipal/school joint purchases of materials, supplies, and equipment. This, plus mutual agreements for crossing guards is a good starting place. However, much deeper collaboration is called for in the joint priorities of building safe, attractive, equitable, sustainable communities. Issues of taxes, zoning, land use, food access, housing, water and air quality, parks and recreation, bike/ped, roads, public transportation, sewers, public health, economic development, school siting — the list goes on and on of issues on which school boards and municipal electeds have shared interests. School board and municipal hands need to be joined to achieve truly comprehensive community planning. Yes, there is plenty of ad hoc communication and cooperation, but the high stakes in addressing interconnected issues of community livability call for more structured and routine coordination between schools and municipal officials. This level of coordination is rare but is a ripe opportunity for achieving sustainable communities.