Thursday, April 21, 2011

When it Gets Personal

A note from the school caught my attention.  It started out with the following sentence:

“I send this letter out to (the school) families with a heavy heart.”

What?  Why the heavy heart?  Who died?  Who’s retiring?  What happened?  I read on to find out. 

“Following over $20 million that (the school district) has cut during this state budget crisis, our district must now cut an additional $3 million for the coming year.” 

Oh.  That’s all.  I almost stopped reading because I get annoyed with all the budget cuts and the pink notes on every other car in the school parking lot giving the visual image of who will not have a job next year.  Miraculously all the teachers are still there the next year, the programs that were supposed to be cut were somehow saved and on and on.  I don’t mean to make light of a real situation but where is the accountability?  If the school district cut $20 million where did those cuts come from and why do we still have to cut more? 

The newscasters report almost daily about the budget cuts in the police and fire departments.  They report the increase in sales tax and gas prices.  Did you know that most of Californian’s pay over 9% in sales tax?  That’s a lot.  And gas around here is almost $5 a gallon.  California always leads the country in exorbitant gas prices.  New taxes for this that and the other come up daily in an effort to solve the budget crisis.  This group is protesting because they think they should be exempt and their services are more important than that group.  The next day the story is the same only with that group’s name. 

We must tighten our belts.  The economy is bad.  Pay pay pay pay pay.  What bothers me is nothing seems to ever get better.  In fact, it all seems to keep getting worse.  And why should I have to bail out the government for overspending when I keep my finances in order?  It’s a vicious cycle that I don’t understand.

Money always affects schools.  My whole life I have heard the school debate over whether or not the money should come out of schools and how necessary cuts will affect the schools.  Schools do a lot to raise money which I think is great.  Annoying sometimes but great.  I don’t know what it’s like across the country but here in California the college students are always protesting tuition increases.  They say that education is a right and not a privilege.  I strongly disagree.  Higher education, or a college education, is absolutely not a right.  It should take effort to qualify for school and it should take effort to earn a degree.  That’s precisely why a college degree is worth more in the workforce.  Not every Joe Schmoe should be handed a college education because he’s an American citizen.  Strive for excellence Joe!  The rest of us are. 

Heath has an intern who is a student at Berkeley, where a lot of the protests are happening.  She says that it’s not the math and science majors who are upset.  It’s the liberal arts students, the history majors, the English majors, the people who are earning a degree that isn’t very useful in the workplace.  I find that interesting. 

Unfortunately the budget crisis is negatively affecting grade schools, middle schools, and high schools.  This is the education that is an American right.  This country has the means to educate its children when many other countries can barely feed themselves.  A primary education is a right in this country. 

The letter from the principal went on to explain in detail what would happen to the students at the school if more budget cuts had to be made.  I read through the list of class sizes increasing to 30 students and the explanation that this impacts personal student attention from teachers who have too many students to deal with.  Physical Education would have to be taught by the regular classroom teachers who normally used the time as a prep period.  “Library hours would be cut, barely letting students check out books once a month.”  I’m not sure I believe that one.  I can see librarians being cut along with the PE teachers and regular teachers having to teach library skills, but saying that the students can only go to the library once a month makes no sense to me.  Technology would be cut entirely.  Music programs for the upper grades would be cut. 

The results of PE and I guess librarians being cut would be that the school would have to have an early release one day a week so teachers could use the time as prep time.  I found the letter’s details interesting.  It described the school system I grew up in and later taught in.  Utah’s classroom teachers have been teaching PE, music, library, and art for as long as I can remember and we always got out early on Fridays.  It’s been an adjustment for me to know my kids don’t get out early once a week.  Because this is the system I know I have mixed emotions about the uproar of budget cuts that will make this a new reality in this neighborhood.  And in some ways I wonder if so much personalized attention for students in smaller classes is even that beneficial.  I’m the Piquant Storyteller.  You don’t have to agree with me. 

“Our Reading Specialist’s time would be cut in half, eliminating critical support for our most at-risk students.”  That’s when it got personal for me.  That’s when the bad taste came into my mouth and the goosebumps raised on my arms.  Would it be nice for specialists to teach different programs in education like technology, library skills, art, music, etc?  Of course.  And I wish money would allow us to do so.  When push comes to shove some programs have to be expendable and therefore piled on to the classroom teacher’s load.  I’m not arguing which programs should go and which should stay but when it comes to basic human rights, Special Education is one of them. 

Reading Specialists are not Special Education teachers though which is why legally this program can be cut.  It does not make me happy.  At the risk of offending my family, I would have to say that Reading Specialists should be saved before any other program.  I have taught Special Education as a Mild/Moderate Resource teacher.  I have tested students whose teachers or parents or both have referred them after nothing else worked for the student.  And I have had to explain to all these people anxiously waiting my dictation with stars in their eyes that the student did not qualify.  Talk about dashing someone’s hopes and dreams.  It’s a devastating blow if there are no other programs available to help the student, Reading Specialists being one of them.  What do those people do?  Hire a Sylvan Learning tutor?  Give up and realize that it’s the winners who write the history books and slow learners are not winners?  The public schools need to have these resources available.  A learning disability that affects reading affects every single other branch of education because if one can’t read they can’t learn as efficiently. 

I find it amazing that the government would even put schools in this position because education is what makes this country successful and competitive.  This country cannot remain competitive if it cuts programs that support the struggling student. The other day I heard a news story that said that there are more minority students than white students in Special Education. Yes. Statistics would tell you that if there are more minority students in a school than white students the numbers would dictate that more minority students would be require special services. I’m sure the ratio of excelling white students vs. white Special Education students is the same ratio as the minority students. I’m not even a math person and I know that’s skewed data. See how important a solid education is?  The best way to defeat a country is to take away its educational resources.  So now I’m back to wondering why citizens have to bail out the government for their poor fiscal choices.  It’s a vicious cycle I know I don’t understand. 

2 thoughts:

Becca Jane said...

Tristan, this was very well-written. You should go present it somewhere or send it to someone... :)

This subject gets both nate and I going...especially since we spent so long thinking he'd be an educator (and he very well may end up working in schools still). It bothers us to NO end that nobody seems to be thinking about the students when they make these cuts. It seems like schools should be the LAST thing they even think about taking money away from. I hate it.

I definitely can't/won't do it, but there are days when I wish I could just homeschool my kids. I used to think it was crazy, but I see the GOOD benefits from it more and more now. If I could handle it with Cameron, I'd probably be seriously considering it...especially with where we live, he gets PLENTY of social interaction, for now anyway. I just know we'd kill each other, LOL!

The Piquant Storyteller said...

Thanks for the compliment Becca!

I hear you on the homeschooling thing. There are so many days I would love to pull out of the political race in public education and just homeschool my kids, but Gavin and I would kill each other if I had to teach him! The friction between us and our similar personalities is what makes me grateful I can send him somewhere. It's good for both of us!

Honestly, if I could grow a money tree I would put my kids in private school. But I'm too busy paying 9 point some odd percent in sales tax and hundreds of dollars a month in gas just to drive my kids to and from public school since there are no buses here.