Guest Commentary: We’ve done what we can to save moneyLast week I wrote about how communities benefit by investing in schools and the tough decisions the school district has made in spending education dollars.
By: Leo Babeu, Lake Superior School District Board, Lake County News Chronicle
Last week I wrote about how communities benefit by investing in schools and the tough decisions the school district has made in spending education dollars. It’s also necessary to understand what’s at stake for our students, and our shared responsibility for their outcomes.
School boards have a responsibility to balance budgets in the long haul. If all of the operating levy questions on the district’s mail-in ballot fail, uneasy decisions must be made to balance current and future budgets.
Perhaps the easiest choice in that scenario will be to implement a four-day school week. Going to four days saves on transportation, energy and certain salary costs while retaining valuable educational programs. Yes, that does shift costs to a group of parents who may deal with additional childcare expenses and changes in family schedules. That may be seen as unfair burden on families already struggling financially. Yet the impact on the education of children in those families may, in the long run, come at an even greater cost if the district doesn’t take advantage of the $250,000 in savings the new schedule would bring.
If none of the levy questions pass, the four-day plan at least could allow the purchase of some buses and curriculum.
The passage of ballot questions 1 or 2 would continue a five-day school week, allow the district to purchase urgently needed buses, upgrade technology and curriculum, and help retain teaching and support staff at current levels. If ballot questions 1 and 2 fail, a four-day week is a real possibility.
There are real consequences when school board members are forced to make decisions based not on how much we can improve our educational offerings but on how much must be cut. Enhancing curriculum isn’t just buying new and better textbooks, rather it’s as much about investing in training teachers in the use of instructional strategies and tools that help them reach even more students.
We know that over the next few years schools will be held more accountable for poor results on standardized tests. We must apply every reasonable approach to raising student achievement. The inability to do so, to even replace buses on a routine basis, will signal a real decline in the quality of education.
Graduating students may be shortchanged at a time when area employers seek applicants with the ability to clearly communicate and to confidently apply their math and technology skills to problem solving.
Further rounds of teaching staff cuts mean the loss of entire areas of study.
Certain districts in northern Minnesota show what more we may lose. Among the programs at eventual risk are: business and consumer science, career readiness, traditional industrial arts, visual arts, instrumental and vocal music, and foreign languages. Additions of new and relevant courses in computer science, industrial technology or health occupations, along with programs that provide more help to struggling young reading students, will also not be feasible without adequate sources of funding.
The board believes education is a community responsibility. If students, and the schools they attend, are a reflection of their community, then I am convinced that we are on the right track. Our students have made a great impression on me. Most of them are taking advantage of the unique opportunities smaller schools like ours offer. They show talent and inspiration in class, on the field, on stage, and through service to others. They are learning to take responsibility for their lives and are aware of the bigger world beyond school walls. It seems many of you must be terrific parents and mentors.
Some frustrated people suggest that we can no longer afford the same educational opportunities they themselves were provided. They want us to consider fees for transportation, textbooks, and “extras” they claim we can’t afford. I submit that what our community and country can’t afford is misplaced frustration that denies that we all have an enlightened self-interest in making good the same social contract that’s served us imperfectly but well for more than 200 years.
In 2009 all the employees of our district looked beyond their own narrow personal interests and agreed to a two-year hard freeze of their wages. They preserved not only their jobs but services and academic programs for students.
Good people can reasonably argue about how to best provide adequate funding for schools over the long haul. Solutions may emerge when our society is forced to redefine its priorities. But right now, in the spring of 2010, an operating levy is an opportunity for residents in this school district to take shared responsibility to invest in ourselves.
Please bring your concerns and questions an operating levy forums: 7 p.m. May 4 at Silver Bay Schools or 7 p.m. May 6 at Two Harbors High School.