Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Draconian and ugly and available

Tonight my friend and I are going to the school system's meeting to give public input on the budget.  We'll stand together while I say the following:

We have spoken to the Board of Education several times in the past, and we appreciate the opportunity to do so again for this year’s public input on the proposed school budget.

Between us, we have five children, four of whom are school-aged and are in the STEM Program (in grades 4, 5, 6, and 8).  Our children clearly need academic rigor, and they get it in STEM.  Two of those four children also have Asperger’s and need special education services, making them “twice exceptional.”  While our school system does not have a separate program for twice exceptional students, we have been working hard to meet both sets of needs of our children within the existing STEM Program.

The impact of the current economic situation on the school system’s funding is dire.  Typically, programming for highly abled learners as well as programming for students who have special education needs are often considered to be “extra” and are among the first to be cut.  They aren’t extra for our children.  They are an essential and integral part of the education of our children and children like them.  We know that the proposed budget cuts will impact our children, from the reductions in categorical spending to the possible loss (by furloughs) of teacher training days to just the general stress levels of staff that have to do even more with even less in both their work and their home lives.  The potential for the academic and behavioral backsliding of our children is a very real concern with the current level of funding -- and it’s even scarier when we recognize that there could be more cuts.  We can only hope and pray that staff can meet our children’s needs without the money necessary to do so.

We understand that these are among the most difficult budget years our school system, our county, and our nation have faced in a very long time.  We understand that cuts have to be made.  While we can’t in good conscience come to the Board of Education and advocate for any one group of students above another, we can come here to ask the Board of Education to support the superintendent’s proposed budget.  We believe that he has done everything in his power to present a thoughtful, intentional budget that shows caring for all students, individually or by groups.  We recognize that this budget will have a negative impact on students, staff, and families, but we also recognize that it is the least draconian of all the ugly choices.  We understand the bitter situation of having to accept the least inappropriate of what’s available.

We don’t think that the real problem lies within Central Office.  We believe it lies in the lap of the funding sources.  We can’t fathom how education isn’t a top priority with the county commissioners, how maintenance of effort that leaves a $14m deficit in the school budget is OK, how having the lowest per pupil spending in the state is OK, or how the dramatic drop in the percentage of county funding for the school system over the past number of years is OK.  Our next job is to make the Board of County Commissioners aware of where we put our priorities and where we believe they should put the county's priorities:  funding the school system.  So we’ll go to the BoCC meeting on April 26th and do the best we can to convince the commissioners that our priority, education, should be their priority.

Thank you.

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