Thursday, March 24, 2011

Whoo Boy!

So it seems that the local school district feels the need to reaffirm my decision to homeschool the Small Boy... and maybe even the Little Bird.  The school budget is, simply put, one big hot mess... aka a 1.3 - 1.6  million gap (different sources give different numbers).  So their solution is to close down one of the five schools in the SAU.  Brief explanation of the schools and some background information:  PSS: K-2, BRS: 3-4, FMS: 5-8, FHS: 9-12, JBS K-6.  Our SAU serves the city I live in and our neighboring town.  JBS is for our neighbors... after that they bus their students to our schools.  Our SAU has three school boards; one for the entire SAU, one for my city's schools, and one for our neighbor's town school.

Now I'm sure we'd all like to believe that ALL of the administration, teachers, and staff at our local school are there, busting their asses at our local public schools because they:  A. love what they do,  B. feel passionate about everyone's right to a free and appropriate education, and C. are willing to invest themselves in the future of our children and community  Recent events have woken me right the hell up... apparently that was just a dream.  Well, maybe I'm being a bit harsh here...  I'm sure there are some that do feel that way... I know there are, I've seen them.  But it's obvious that someone does not agree.  The school board has voted to close BRS, move all the students to PSS, and terminate 25 jobs across the SAU.  Seriously people.. there has got to be a better way!  And rather than just sit here and complain, I took the time last night to look at the school budgets... see exactly what was being spent where...  see if things were as bleak as they appeared to be... was there really no other way?  After an hour or so I had a headache, was nauseous, and was officially shocked, awed, and seriously disappointed.  In my opinion, there most certainly is another way to solve this problem.

First, why I think merging these two particular schools is a bad idea.  PSS currently houses approximately 280 students, next year when they add in all the BRS students, that will bring the count up to almost 450!  How is this in the best interest of our children and the teachers that serve them?  Crowding classrooms and over working our teachers...  there's a great solution!  Higher student to teacher ratios will result in: less one on one individualized instruction, more children "slipping through the cracks," teachers that are stressed and worn and aren't able to do their job as well as they should.  I mean, this one is just a no brainer here folks.

They also propose cutting the Kindergarten program back to half days, but offering full day only to those students that "need" the extra instruction.  This will put a strain on working parents, one that they were not planning on for next year.  Time to scramble for childcare, and then scrape up the money for it!  Remembering back to my son's Kindergarten days... this is how they did the classes then too and because he was prepared for Kindergarten he was only there for a half day.  They somehow got an entire curriculum into that half day, including a daily snack time and "specials" classes (music, art, PE, library, and guidance).  I was sad to learn that as a result of this daily cram session there wasn't often time for outdoor play (aka recess).  They're Kindergarteners for Pete's Sake!  It was the following year that they switched all the classes to full day, and what a difference!  =)

I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the idea.  Instead, let's now explore the school budget.

Last night while pouring over the SAU budget (this is for the SAU office only, not teachers or principals) I discovered that they intend to increase their Administration Salaries budget by over 100,000!  WOW!  That pretty fricking nifty!  We don't have the funds to operate all our schools or for the salaries paid to those that are "in the trenches" working with our kids, but let's toss a large chunk of change to The Powers That Be.  There's a great show of team spirit right there.  I've also discovered that just last year the district hired a new Superintendent and Principal for one of the schools, at a higher rate of pay than their predecessors.  And, from what I've heard, they proceeded to hand out raises across the district.  How could they justify this?

Now I'm all for paying teachers their weight in gold, truly I am.  Teaching is one of those professions that in order to be exceptional it's all but necessary to pour yourself, heart and soul, into what you do.  Any teacher will tell you tales of paper grading until 2am when they finally fell asleep with their pen still in hand, stories of how they were late to or had to reschedule their personal appointments so they could spend extra time with a child that was in distress (educationally or emotionally), or about an evening spent consoling (and maybe even crying with) a parent struggling with some aspect of their family life.  I get it...  really I do.  But, the fact still remains... teachers do what they do because their students come first.  Period.  So when I see a situation like this and then I look at the school budgets and find that they're spending a fair amount of those hard to come by dollars on stipends for teachers that are taking charge of extra activities like Yearbook, Math Club, Team Leaders, and Sports Coaches... wouldn't it be worth it to forgo those stipends (they really aren't that much individually, but when you add them all up, it would make a difference).  Our high school students are required to have community service hours to graduate (an excellent addition to their curriculum!).  What a fantastic example it would be, not just for our students, but also for the community that looks up to them (yes, like it or not, anyone that works in education is a role model for their community), to see our teachers willingly and happily give up those stipends for the good of the students!  Even better, let's see those educators... each and every person that is employed in our school district, because whether they are the custodian, grounds keeper, teacher, or administrator, they are an educator... let's see them take a small cut in pay so that so many of their coworkers, dare I say friends, don't end up sacrificing their entire paycheck, permanently.  I really want proof from my school district that the education of our kids really does come first.  That they are all willing to pull together, support each other, and set the bar so that others will step up too!

What about our neighbor, JBS.  Their school is home to less than 100 students (compared to BRS, they have almost 200).  Why not close that school, if one must be closed.  It would make much more sense to try to blend a smaller group of students across seven grades (not impacting class sizes in a huge way) into the already existing schools here.  There are already daily buses coming for the older kids, so that wouldn't be an added expense.  I'm sure they have less staff members, making it a little easier to possibly offer them positions here as well.

I've also wondered if the city has taken the time to evaluate what's going on here...  and if so, have they scoured their budget to see if they can contribute a bit more?  Pretty landscaping and nice new light posts are a great investment... they make our city look and feel better.  But should such things come before educating our kids?  What about the state?  Has anyone explored whether or not we can get more funding from them?  Sadly, I know very little about politics (just in case you hadn't figured that one out already)... I haven't the first clue how to explore these avenues.

There are all sorts of rumors flying around town...  the football field is getting a new set of lights for the field, despite the school districts financial constraints; the new superintendent that the district spent so much money on has searched, applied for, and is a finalist for a new job in another state, as well as other sneaky practices...  I've been racking my brain, trying to make heads or tails of all of it.  I will be attending the upcoming meetings, hopefully getting the nerve to speak my opinions (it's soooo much easier here in the comfort of my chair with no visible audience), as well as hear what everyone else has to say.  There is no easy solution.  But I just want to be sure that we, as a community, have done everything in our power to keep the kids from being the ones that suffer here.

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