The Transylvania Times -

Generational Interdependence


January 22, 2018

At the Transylvania County Board of Education meeting last Tuesday evening, local resident Kimsey Jackson said he represented the school board’s “worst nightmare.” Jackson apparently was referring to the fact that he is an 83-year-old retiree on a fixed income with no children or grandchildren in the local school system and that he had been given no reason thus far to vote for the proposed school bond referendum.

School board members, not just here but across the country, are often concerned about retiree support for bond referendums because there is a perception that since retirees receive no direct benefits from the local school system, particularly if they have no family members in the school system, they see no reason to support a bond and vote to raise taxes on themselves.

Such a view is myopic and socially destructive. We all benefit from a good public school system. The children of today will become the doctors, nurses, lawyers and accountants of tomorrow. For current retirees and those on the cusp of retirement, especially those who will require a great deal of medical care within the next 30 years, their physical and mental well-being will be dependent upon the skills of our current students. As we have noted before on this page, there is a looming shortage of doctors and nurses. Only by increasing the quality of education for a broader range of students can we lessen that shortage. Conversely, if we fail to provide quality educational systems, not only will we have a shortage of medical professionals, but we also increase the chances of students having a net negative impact on society when they become adults by being either criminals or chronically unemployed or underemployed. Education is crucial to the improvement of any society.

Fortunately, local retirees contribute a great deal to this community. While a significant portion of our economy is based on tourism, it is also reliant on retirees. Many of our local restaurants and retail stores are dependent upon them from November through April. Retirees also comprise the bulk of volunteers in this community. They provide hundreds of thousands of hours of free labor. Without them we either would have higher tax rates or see a drastic reduction in individual services. Retirees have been strong supporters of the local school system, both through their volunteerism and financial support. Many volunteer as tutors in the school system or afterschool programs such as Rise & Shine. Others contribute monetarily, as exemplified by the financial support the residents of Burlingame Haven bestowed upon T.C. Henderson School of Science and Technology.

But in the larger context of our lives, support is not a one-way street. Retirees also benefit from people who are now working. Today’s workers are subsidizing the Social Security payments that retirees receive, as well as other federal, state and local programs that benefit the elderly. If there is any group that has a disproportionate burden placed upon them, it is those who are neither young nor old – those between the ages of 21 and 65. Their tax contributions benefit both the young and old – their children, if they have any, and their parents, if they are still living.

That, more or less, is the system we have operated under for decades, and it has seemed to work relatively well. The young have neither the knowledge nor experience to make such financial contributions, though their education prepares them to make such contributions in their adulthood. The elderly receive support for many of their needs, particularly medical, and that is reasonable since they already have contributed to society in multiple ways for nearly 50 years.

John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island.” It is also true that no generation is, or should be, an island. In every successful civilization each generation is dependent upon the preceding and succeeding generations. One builds upon and gives back to another. As Jackson acknowledged last Tuesday evening, years ago when he was a student in the Transylvania County school system and then a student at N.C. University, retirees contributed to his education. Since the generations are linked, what benefits our students today should benefit all of us in the future. As for the upcoming bond referendum, retirees should, and most likely will, make their decisions as everyone else should – on the merits of the bond and the likelihood that its passage would improve the education of our local students.


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