Valuing Our National Treasure

Local school budget votes will be held statewide this year on Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Given the current political instability at the state capital and the uncertainty about educational funding, a wide spectrum of proposals ...

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Local school budget votes will be held statewide this year on Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Given the current political instability at the state capital and the uncertainty about educational funding, a wide spectrum of proposals will likely face each of us as voters. Many school districts are pushing worst-case scenario budgets, which will probably end some vital programs and jeopardize our students success.

It is vital to our local school communities that every resident voter goes out and votes for or against the budget. The days of indifference and complacency must die, whether you have children in a public school or not, our schools belong to all of our residents. In many communities, our schools are the heart of the community.

Between now and the budget vote, we need to urge lawmakers to increase state revenues and seek a federal stimulus funding to fill the gap that many school districts will face. Districts have until April to finalize figures.

This year, be an informed voter. Know your school district s budget inside and out. Question every line item. If vital services are being eliminated, you have a right to know why. If tenured teachers are being laid off, you need to know why. If class size is increasing and support services are being decreased, ask why? Don t be distracted by bureaucratic rhetoric that sounds nice but says nothing.

Scrutinize administrative costs; does your district need its administrative staff and support staff that goes with it? If major cuts have to be made, let s be sure we have cut all the fat and excessive spending in nonessential areas first, before we eliminate vital academic, athletic and support services.

Teacher salaries are always a strong bone of contention, whenever finances are tight. A good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. They are empowering our children to become all that they can be for the future. They are teaching them to think, problem solve and become positive agents of change.

Tenure is a problem for many. However, it s not the concept that is the problem, but its implementation. Every professional seeks some kind of job security. With that job security, should come a commitment to professional development and accountability. From my perspective, tenure should not be eliminated but rather the small group of teachers that take advantage of our wonderful profession and shortchange our students should be confronted. There should be a mechanism in the tenure system to eliminate or sanction those who are not doing their job as they should.

That being stated, the vast majority of our teachers are exceptionally competent, extremely professional and deeply committed to their students. I see this commitment every day, as I travel across the country speaking in hundreds of public high schools and colleges every year. I am inspired by their creativity and dedication. What is being done locally in our own schools is amazing. We re quick to criticize, and obsess over their missteps, but rarely do we consistently celebrate their achievements. Yes, we celebrate our athletic teams and their successes. We occasionally celebrate the performing art programs in some of our schools.

However, do we celebrate some of the projects and programs that the faculty initiated to challenge our students to use their gifts and talents to make our communities better places? Those initiatives and programs are our best kept secrets, and rarely get the press and acknowledgment they deserve.

Random acts of kindness and community projects with the purpose of making a difference don t sell newspapers or get the attention of the media like gang violence, a drug bust or a terrible car accident caused by teenage recklessness.

Some school districts, because of budget restrictions, are going to eliminate these initiatives, and that would be tragic. Equally as tragic will be the support staff that will lose their jobs because of budget cuts. The elimination of school social workers, nurse teachers, attendance teachers, guidance counselors and school psychologists will potentially jeopardize the health and well-being of all of our schools.

Over the past 25 years, the academic landscape of our school communities has drastically changed. Technology has presented wonderful opportunities, but equally as challenging social circumstances. Drug and alcohol use and abuse is on the rise, as well as the increased use of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. The student coming to class today has so many more social challenges to confront than the students that went before them.

The emotional roller coaster that many of our students ride during high school and middle school is of great concern. The support staff that has been put in place to assist our students to navigate is rather complicated and should not be decreased, but rather in most school communities their numbers should be increased.

Teachers are not social workers or counselors. They need to identify our kids at risk, but also need to have someone to refer them to; not just for their sake, but also for the sake of the classroom that is being disrupted. It is not fair for the rest of the students to lose valuable instructional time, while a teacher attempts to counsel a fellow classmate, who is out of control.

Many do this without complaint. However, the issues have become much more serious and complex, demanding the skills of a professional social worker, counselor or school psychologist.

Some will say this is not the job of our schools and a strong case could be made for that perspective. However, what many are failing to realize is that the number of students that are in need of assistance is escalating exponentially. It is no longer just a handful of students each year in need of support services, but rather hundreds in a large school district.

Our students are part of our national treasure that needs to be valued and protected. Let s value them by valuing and protecting our schools. Vote for a school budget that has our children as its first priority.