Like all entities dependent upon tax dollars for survival, schools are being called upon to do more with less. It has become abundantly clear to me, that educators have not embraced this crisis as a reason to explore systemic changes and redesign of the delivery system. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the budget cuts within the context of our current educational model.
Without a doubt, the ‘easy’ cuts have been made. Districts have harvested all the low hanging fruit. The next round of cuts will be deeper, will test the resolve of leaders, and will tell a lot about the values of communities.
Most school leaders agree, it won’t be possible to make the required reductions without looking at the two biggest expenditures in their budgets–salaries and facilities. As you might imagine, a reduction in salaries most likely means a reduction in force, and to make substantial reductions in the facility expenditures may require closing buildings. For some districts this will mean additional consolidation within a district; for others it may involve collapsing two (or more) neighboring districts into one.
I’ve lived through the closing of buildings. (3 elementary schools in the last 20 years) It is ugly. But it isn’t the end of the world, and it just might be the right thing to do.
Recently a parent from a nearby district has been corresponding with me. She resides in a school district that is not unlike the district in which I live as the district is made up of 5 small communities, with the three smallest communities each housing a grade school. She is concerned that the current superintendent and school board plans to close one or more of the outlying elementary schools. As you might guess, she lives in one of the outlying communities and like her neighbors, she fears the loss of their grade school.
To her credit, this patron is getting involved, and she is educating herself. It was evident in our first conversation, that she had an agenda. Keep the elementary in her town open, at all costs. There is no doubt, she remains biased toward any solution that keeps the building in her town open, but she is trying to develop a broader understanding.
In a recent exchange, we discussed the multiple factors that need to be weighed when considering solutions on the table. As I told her, whatever solution she rallies behind will need more teeth than just an argument to save the building. Likewise, the argument of “It’s not fair.” won’t hold much water either. Believe, me I’ve heard both.
Rather than argue issues of fairness or spreading fear about how the loss of the school is the final nail in the coffin for the existence of a small town, districts, patrons, boards of educators, teachers and unions should have a single interest at heart. Namely–How can we best use the available resources to provide the greatest educational opportunity for the kids we serve? It isn’t about the adults. Sadly, it isn’t even about preserving small towns. It’s about the kids.