Commentary: Quality schools are not extras

I find the story some folks tell about our community frustrating and worrisome.  That story goes something like this: “Extras, like quality schools and public safety, would be nice to have, but Shenandoah County is too old and poor to be able to provide those big-city services.”  I do not accept that to be our fate. Quality schools and adequate public safety are neither extras nor merely big-city services.  At the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisor’s meeting on Feb 28, I asked the supervisors to abandon this false narrative before it becomes my children’s destiny. How do we dispel this myth and strengthen our community?  By sharing a true description of who we are, what we can be and putting it into action.

The false narrative is built on phrases like “median household income is declining.” But is that true? The best-available data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce say it’s not. For a rural locality our size (populations under 65,000) the Census Bureau SAIPE program provides annual single year estimates of median household income.  Figures released in December 2016, show Shenandoah County’s median household income was $54,281 in 2015, up from the year before, and equal to or slightly above several neighboring counties. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis has Shenandoah County’s 2015 per capita personal income at $39,291,  up 3.2 percent from 2014.

Shenandoah County is not without its share of challenges. We do have people struggling. The recession was hard and businesses did close. But as the recovery continues we have seen several existing businesses expand their operations. Time and energy spent complaining about our problems are wasted. Ignoring the opportunities those challenges can present just sets us up for disappointment and dysfunction.

Encouraging our elected officials to make investments in our county shows potential residents and businesses alike the opportunities that exist here. It gives them confidence to put down roots, make their own investments and share in our commitment to community.  If we are unwilling to invest in the things that make communities attractive places to live, work and raise a family, the false narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We cannot stand by and let that happen. Together we can write the narrative by speaking up in support of our schools and public safety providers.

Meeting the needs of our community is a challenge and an opportunity.  If met, we can cast off misconceptions and restart the narrative I heard growing up.  That one goes like this: “Shenandoah County has a rich and deep history of people from all walks of life contributing to strong communities, taking pride in being the county of industry with plenty.”

Seth Coffman is a parent and resident of Shenandoah County.