Tuesday, January 29, 2013

School budget woes

Our town, like many others, is currently looking at a large school budget deficit.  I do not mean in the hundred thousands, I mean in the many millions.  Considering I live in the county with the highest property taxes in the US, though my town is considered "reasonable" - only in comparison to the absurd taxes other towns around us pay, somehow we find ourselves with a budget deficit.  I cannot say enough about the wonderful school system my children are in.  It is all that I would design a school system to be - diverse, well rounded between academics and non-academic development, clean, safe and staffed with teachers that to date have just touched my children's development as much as they have touched my heart for their relationships with my kids.

The deficit comes from the pension plan that teachers' get.  This is a quandary - our teachers are very well paid (as they should be) - and have a pension plan that is the envy of pretty much every person in this town.  We have a President in our country who in his inauguration speech pledged his commitment to education and an attitude that since it is his second term he will push forward the agendas he finds important - hey dude let's see you put our money where you mouth is on this one.  The problem is that since the pension system is not sustainable (this people of this town just cannot keep getting increases) and teachers' union am pretty sure will not negotiate much on this one - what happens to our schools?

In this land many years ago pensions were part of the contract between employer and employee.  The employee worked hard for many years, the company benefited, the company took care of the employee when they retired.  I had a pension plan for years at work - then suddenly the company decided as of 2015 they will no longer contribute to it and it will be pushed into some sort of 401K type plan.  For all of you who find the banner of cut their profits so easy to say, without really understanding what will happen, this is how corporations work.  The person who makes money at the top - yep they still make money and more of it - but the cuts come down, down, down.  It is scary when you have to look at reality isn't it ?  So rather than be a beacon of progressiveness most companies, like mine, have chosen the less expensive option - stop pensions.  After all people no longer work for companies for years so why reward their non-existent loyalty right? Not so right.

Teachers on the other hand do work for the "company" for many years.  So while I cannot imagine any more property tax increases I do struggle with the fact that maybe a scaled version of a pension is right but elimination of it I just strongly believe is wrong.  In my dream world, pensions, social security, healthcare, teachers, education, infrastructure, medical professionals, medicines all get the largest chunk of the federal budget - everyone else welcome to my town's dilemma you have a shortfall now figure out how to budget and cut (yep that includes the government actually looking at how ridiculously inefficient they are).  I always waffle on defense - we need it but the waste of money there and the little the veterans actually get is mind-blowing.

Yet all of this will not happen, regardless of the lengthy speech on inauguration day from the federal government who is best at telling us why they are needed and poor at actually getting much done in the last 20 years.  So here we are a town of concerned parents who want to educate our children with the best teachers and opportunities (do not get me started on the mediocrity and inefficiency created with the Common Core) and we have to look to cut.  We will need to look at the need for school secretaries (wasteful in this day and age so sorry they could easily be cut over a teacher or after school program - Principals make enough money to have to do some of their own clerical work), eliminating so much of the paper that we still use, looking for alternative private grants, extending the bus routes (okay people I walked to schools and lived to tell about it) for the older grades and we will still have a budget deficit.  All of these will help but we will still need more cuts unless money comes from ....yeah I too have no answer. As I just got our W-2 and see how much (always sticker shock) I pay in federal taxes I can tell you I would easily reverse what I pay to my state to what I pay to federal any day. 

I also am pretty peeved at the waste of spending money and time that the government spends to avert or pass laws with the anti choice lobby to try and curb reproductive rights, the pro gun lobby (ironically often the same people) to try and keep laws to be able to get guns that have the type of capacity that no individual outside of a war zone should have, money to tell schools what books they should and should not use (both sides guilty of this for different reasons) because they offend someone - umm education is about about making one question and helping people form opinions not telling them what their opinions should be, money spent to stop laws that protect people from domestic violence, and money spent on laws to prohibit consenting adults from getting married because their choice of partner -- all this money is my money in government.  Here is a radical thought how about using some of that money toward education instead of wasting it on these absolutely draconian rules?

For those of you reading this who have closed budget gaps in your schools suggestions are not only welcome but needed.  For those of you who are facing the same issues it is not hopeless but it is scary. The time is now and unless the unions, teachers, parents, school boards work together and each give some on this issue there will be no winners... our children will lose and their loss will be felt in a future that will be less than they deserve. To the government do not lip sync your promises but pool your voice together for a loud commitment to our country regardless of which party the suggestion comes from.

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