I attended a budget planning meeting last night. The school board of our local school district held the meeting to address upcoming budget shortfalls that are going to affect our public school system. Really affect our public school system! The main point of contention being the proposed closure of three elementary schools. It is unfortunately happening all over this country due to the recession and high unemployment. Education is suffering and our little area of the world is not immune to these severe cuts and changes.
I feel very fortunate in that my children won't be hugely affected. Their school is not one of the schools to close and we will not be taking on a large number of students into our school. Our enrollment will not change next year. So again...I'm feeling very fortunate. But at the same time, I think about the kids who will be affected. I hate to see a school close. To see the children have to make new friends at a strange new school. Many of them will be bused far from their neighborhoods. One group of children will be forced to ride the bus for 45 minutes one way to attend a school south of our town. A sad situation, but arguably a situation that can not be avoided in our current economy.
One thing that I observed last night was how emotionally charged people became. If it was my school, I would be just as upset. But one thing that was disturbing was how all of these parents needed an enemy. Someone to take their frustration out on. This enemy, as I'm sure you can guess, was the school board. They knew they would hear yelling and see fingers pointing in their direction over and over, but I was hoping it would be a little more civil. The school board members did not create this economy. They are not part of our legislature and therefore, did not make laws and regulations in regards to school funding. They are parents too. Just hardworking intelligent individuals who may not have children in the elementary schools, but who do have children in the school district. I sincerely believe they care about these decisions and how the cuts will affect our children's education. Many people last night just needed to be heard. They needed to raise their voices. And they did!
Not much was accomplished other than learning more details about the cuts that will be taking place over the next two years. The actual budget will not be finalized until May or June. After that time, firm numbers will be in place and then decisions about cuts can be made.
Like I said, I feel for the parents of children at the schools about to close. And I'm in a good place so selfish as it may sound....someone has to suffer and sacrifice in this recession. Something has to give. People in this district have some resources at their disposal. Some of them do have the funds to go to private schools if they choose. Others may be able to form car pools to school so their kids won't have to be bused the long distance to another school. There are options to get through this tough time.
There is one group of people who do not have options to get through an environment of budget cuts. Those are children with special needs. Many children with special needs do not have the option to be homeschooled (depending on their medical and emotional needs). Many of these children also do not have the option to be schooled in a private school. The school district is the only hope they have of a quality education. So when people mention closing the school established for special needs high school students, it is tough for me to hear. These are children who were not successful in our traditional high schools. If their school closes, they have no where to go. We need to help these children because they are a fragile population of kids. It is easy to look at that small population being affected and come to the conclusion that because it only would affect a hundred or so children, cuts should be made there. Thankfully, the school board understands these children are disadvantaged and don't have options the rest of us do. Closing this school is only going to take place after all other cuts are made. I'm hoping it doesn't go this far.
So we'll just anxiously await the firm budget numbers coming out this spring. I'm hoping for the best. I love my daughter's school and really believe she is getting an excellent education. I would hate for that to change.