GOSHEN — The question of whether a new countywide education venture will use local government resources to get off the ground is one that concerns Peter Recchio, co-founder of the Tea Party of Michiana Action Coalition.
Recchio said leaders of the Horizon Education Alliance indicated early on that the project would be privately funded, but he recently caught wind of the group’s plans to ask the county to step up its involvement. County commissioner Mike Yoder, Recchio said, is leading the charge to engage local government.
“Their stated course of action was that there would be no public funds,” Recchio said. “That is what they said to the county. That’s what Mr. Yoder said to his constituents — no public funds, no taxpayer money, all privately supported. Well, it’s not being done that way.”
But Yoder said that’s not the case.
“I don’t know if we officially said anything about funding in the beginning of this process,” said Yoder, an advisory member of Horizon’s board. “From the beginning, this was an idea that came from a countywide strategic plan suggesting that we need to do a better job of connecting the business community to the education community. We’re taking this one step at a time moving forward. We’re saying here are the options, and what’s the right step to take? I get a little frustrated with groups in this county that think we can’t ask questions, that think we can’t discuss.”
Horizon leaders were supposed to give a presentation Saturday morning at the Elkhart County Council’s upcoming meeting, Yoder said. But when he learned that councilman David Foutz, a former high school teacher, would be absent, Yoder postponed the discussion until later this month.
Members of Tea-MAC still plant to be at Saturday’s meeting to voice opposition to Horizon, Recchio confirmed.
“Many of us are watching this closely,” he said.
Horizon plans to ask the county Sept. 28 for a commitment over the next 16 months as the alliance begins to put its strategic plan into action. The request includes adding Horizon’s executive director, Brian Wiebe, and research assistant Aliah Carolan-Silva as county employees. If approved, the county would pay for their benefits totaling $64,000, and salaries would be furnished by private funding, grants and school contributions, Yoder explained.
“From the commissioners’ perspective, this modest contribution for the next 16 months indicates to the alliance, to the public schools, to the business community that yes, we affirm the goals, we affirm the mission, we affirm the vision of this, and it is the most critical economic development investment that we can make in this community for not only the near future but also the long-term future of this community,” Yoder said.
Yoder noted that funding for their benefits would come from the county’s environmental special projects account, which has a balance of about $186,000.
“We’re not asking for taxpayer money at this point,” he added.
Still, Recchio opposes the county’s involvement with Horizon.
“We do not agree that the government or any other entity should be in charge of our children from cradle to grave,” he said. “I think that this is controlled education gone wild, run amok. Parents should have the controlling interest in the education of their children.”
Recchio questions whether it is legal for county government and private interests to band together, mixing public and private funds.
“We’re looking into that,” he said.
Yoder is confident in Horizon’s mission, but there is some uncertainty on how the county council will vote.
“I’ve touched base with almost all of the council members, and at this point, I think there is a lot of questions,” he said. “It would be very difficult to judge what the vote will be.”