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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jackie O (oh Jackie)

I have found a really good book club -- it is virtual (though the cocktails usually associated with in person book clubs would be nice Kris) and it is really only one other person.  The reason I find it good is because we usually like and dislike the same books and actually read them and discuss them.  I mean there is nothing quite like reading a book and then sharing that with another person.  I am a total bibliophile. The cocktails in any other book club I tried led to less talk about the book, or my small pet peeve people who never read any part of the book.  I mean why not just say let's get drinks and not a book club. 

Our recent book club selection is "Mrs. Kennedy and Me" - it is written by the Secret Service agent who was assigned to her detail when she was First Lady.  I must admit I do not worship at the Kennedy altar like so many do.  I have come to respect the difficult JFK presidency, Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis/Soviets everywhere trying to push for greater domination/Berlin/Civil Rights/Vietnam, and the man never even got to finish his first term!!!!  I have come to believe, sorry Oliver Stone - good movie though, that the lone gunman theory actually is quite plausible and likely - conspiracy theories just don't work for me, especially when they get so many people - come on someone is talking and screwing it up.  Maybe it is just really scary that it did not take the Cuban expats, CIA, Kennedy Sr Mob connection, Marilyn along with a very convincing Gary Oldman character to kill one president.  It is scarier that it only took one man, a set of bad circumstances and a president who had to visit a state because re-election was not looking so good.

I also like Jackie - but something there always put me off a little.  This book looked interesting and after a few books that were so dark with characters so unlikable (could not finish Casual Vacancy - could care less about every character and apparently I never even made it to the nastiest scene) that I just did not want to escape to with my reading.  When my friend suggested this book for our club, and she looks like Jackie in some ways - possibly the same panache and smile, it was a welcome and much needed diversion.  This book is light and I am so enjoying globe trotting and entertaining with Mrs. Kennedy.  I find myself thinking that they had a marriage that was not bad but it was more of a partnership - with both of them choosing to live apart for a good part of the week, yet good friends and bound kindly to one another when they needed to be.  She wanted to travel and shop, to live her life as her privileged background had allowed her to -- yet as First Lady her public appeal was a tough cross to bear for a woman who was shy.  I also will always remain slightly puzzled by her next choice of husband -- stop it she did not need the money, another friend said maybe she just needed to not be JFKs widow for her and her children for a while. The horror of the day she sat next to her husband, not the president to her, and he was shot is unimaginable to me. 

I also am wondering where the world started to spin in a less favorable direction.  In all that was going on in the world that JFK had to deal with, the world welcomed the young American and his fashionable wife.  In India and Pakistan she was welcomed by all the people.  The fundamentalists had not taken over so her cap sleeves in public were not fatwa material in Karachi.  The world, despite the troubles that were happening (Eastern bloc, Korea and Vietnam, only 20 years post WW2) seemed to be opening up , looking at this couple for the promise they represented.

This weekend as we remember Dr Martin Luther King, another man whose vision of promise and fulfillment for all people regardless of color/creed/belief, what do we want to move forward with?  Do we let the assassins who took JFK, MLK, RFK and others also kill what they stood for - positive change - and leave us with just that moment of death? Do we remain focused on what is going wrong without seeing where we can go right?  Do we embrace the grace of Jackie and even Michelle Obama and teach our daughters that they can be and do anything (First Lady or President) or do we tell her not to get on bus in India (or any other place since violence may happen to them)? There is something in this book that is really sparking my desire for a world that embraces beauty and those who have a dream.  I saw a great sign in honor of the young woman who was brutally raped and killed on a bus in India it said "do not tell your daughters to stay home - tell yours sons to behave well when they go out" -- I can raise boys who appreciate and treat women like they are all First Ladies (and Presidents) and who ensure their dreams involve making the world better for being in it whether they are First Husbands or Presidents or just voting for those offices.  

"where have you gone Joe Dimaggio - our nation turns it's lonely eyes to you"...Simon/Garfunkel

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Can you hear the people sing?

I recently took my 8 year old son, along with my wonderful friend and her 8 year old daughter (aka my son's good bud), to see Le Mis.  It was not his first viewing, we had seen a production at our local high school (his then 4 1/2 year old brother lasted about 30 min but my then 6 year old lasted through 2 1/2 hours of it).  

I had loved the play on Broadway - the music is wonderful if you like musicals, the stage was amazing live and most of all there is the story.  The story of a man driven to steal a loaf of bread, driven to survive a harrowing imprisonment, driven to change and most of all driven from start to finish to be more than 24601.  

My friend and I were bit nervous about taking our kids - you know there is a scene where a young boy is killed, point blanc - but since both of them were familiar with the story we thought it would be ok.  They were not as traumatized by that scene, my friend and I weeped openly and I used her box of tissues freely, as we thought - they were saddened by it, by the sheer unfairness of killing him.  There was a lesson there - not so much our furtive glances, stifled giggles and fervent wishes for them to close their eyes at the scene with a hooker riding Santa -- guess who was Master of the House there ho ho ho?!

Since then my son and his brother have wanted to hear the soundtrack over and over and over again.  They do not understand why someone would go to jail for stealing bread when they are hungry - explained that the law is the law and that the bad part is not having an opportunity to make enough to feed your family.  My youngest asked "why don't the rich people show the poor people 3 or 4 jobs to pick from and then give them money to do them?".  They cannot imagine the life of poverty and stifled opportunity.  I can - I lived in a communist country where your dreams were stifled and money or not lack of basic necessities were the only things that were "equally shared", there were still people with "means" they were just fewer and if you think it is hard to get ahead in a capitalist society, an Eastern bloc country made it look like they give it all away here. 

I look around us and I despair often these days - though my optimism is never far behind that there will be a better world...around the corner just slowly shuffling forward - hurry up.  My greatest fear for the States is that the opportunities will keep drying up - one of the things that saves Jan Valjean is an opportunity, to break away from his past, to make something of himself, to increase his wealth from nothing and help others with it.  I see a government more concerned with fighting with each other, more worried about about special interest lobbies then with the good of the country and it's citizens.  I see too many people working too hard and getting less and less with doors closing on their opportunities.  We are stumbling but we can still move forward.  A country full of people who are better off as a whole is a whole lot better off. I am hopeful that this amazing mish-mash of a country that gave my family and I a chance to make our dreams realities is still here ...still ready to take a man who asks "who am I?' or a woman who "dreams a dream" and offer them the chance to be "master of the house". 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On aging...

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” 
― Robert Frost

I recently spent a day in a hospital with my mother and her husband.  My Mom is in her early 70s and he is 80.  I am not sure when my mother got to be 71 - I mean she was 45 forever in my mind, before she actually was that age and way after - and then all of a sudden as I see her with him, and as they struggle with moving I noticed she shrunk a little and sped to her 70s.  She is an active can't sit still type so she is very energetic but I see her wince a little when she wakes up and notice that she carries around a pill case that well is filled with a lifetime of hard work that beat up the body.  

My stepfather's hospital roommate was 82 and his wife 81. This couple had great energy between them.  Since it was a whole day, and if you have ever been in a hospital visiting or as a patient you know time drags on (and that weird hospital smell well - yeah - you got it - eww).  My stepfather slept a lot, which I think a lot of patients do  - maybe hoping to whittle away the hours until they go home, maybe due to their illness, or maybe because it is so boring.  The other gentleman and I got to speaking here and there.  An interesting man who was quite funny and from what he shared led quite the life.  He was in the hospital because the insurance company had sent him generic version of his diuretic and well it did not work as well (do not get me started) and he was just hoping he could get out soon and as he said "I have a lot of living to do and this is cramping my style".

In talking with him I realized how much we dislike aging as a society.  How much we fight it, Botox and plastic surgery from mid-thirties, and often pretend "nope not happening to me".  If we are not fighting it we treat it like the plague that has hit our house.  It is flung about like poo (I live with an 8 and 6 year old so this expression is often used) and just as vile every time weight loss is harder, waking up takes a few more minutes for the bones to settle, those lines on our face that mark us like the rings of a tree and it is never, ever associated with anything positive.  We pass judgement on anyone who is older (man or woman) who is with a younger (man or woman) partner - as if the only thing or attraction between these two would be money or status.  So many of us are afraid of aging that anyone who chooses the older person must have an ulterior motive.  Since that is how we view our own ageing well then how do our elderly see themselves, how do we see them?  We hope that they do not start to cross the street when the light is yellow, because they will shuffle and we of course cannot wait that minute at the green light, that they will at best go to an assisted living facility (and complain how they are wasting all their money there...or more honestly the inheritance from small to massive) or to Florida.  We do not want to say that someone in their 80s is old...really they are...because that is a negative thing.  

I have found that talking to older people and treating them like equals not the elderly can lead to some fascinating conversations ( oh my they had sex in the 1940s, there were protests in the 30s, it was always tough to raise your child) and stories.  It is ok to get older because no matter how much botulism you put in your face you are still ageing  - look at that great equalizer.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to keep in shape and out of hospitals, with looking your best at any age but there is something wrong when we make people ashamed to admit that they are getting to a natural state...older.  I have never lied about my age (well except ironically like most people when I was younger that I was older to get into bars or clubs) because it comes with all the memories, the loves, the kisses, the experiences that each of my years has had.  To lie would deny the years that already passed.  There are ornery old people but they were previously obnoxious young people so maybe for once can we just treat those of a different age than us as what they are ...someone who we have in our lives not defined by the candles on their cake 

If we can start embracing the fact that we will all age - and it may not always be pretty - and yes the body will not cooperate the same way - then maybe we will start to value those people who already aged and our own futures.  Maybe if we do not treat it like something to hide then we would stop trying to not spend any money on the population that added to coffers to begin with.  This population, and them baby boomers are a LOT of this soon, with it's experience is a natural resource for as the old adage (funny antiques are good except of people) says "those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it"...how about we try and repeat those parts of history that enhanced our world and avoid the mistakes we never knew about since we never asked?

“It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.” 
― Andy Rooney

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Goodbye 2012... hard to believe

How will we remember 2012?  I have been thinking about this for the past few days?  If you, like me, know that watching the news is usually depressing yet cannot help yourself because you are a current events junkie (goes hand in hand with my being a history junkie too...child of Communist bloc parents so politics were my bedtime story since I can remember) you may recall this year by all the tragedies.  There were man made tragedies (like Newtown, CT) and natural disasters (Hurricane Sandy) and the usual murder, mayhem, wars and other items that the print and tv media called "news" deems worthy of spending the majority of their time on.

That would be a depressing way to go into a new year.  It is not that we should all not acknowledge all of these terrible events, what could we learn from them, how could we handle them better, is there a prevention?  It is not that no matter how hard we may try this year will always touch our hearts as the year that so many small children were cruelly killed.  It is just that I cannot let that be what takes over my memories.

This year in review in the storage of my brain will need to be about the wonderful poem my 8 year old wrote about Peace (where he broke it down to things like sitting on the couch as a family to watch a movie).  The year that my 6 year old looked me lovingly in the eye and said "me and you and you and me always".  There are the moments in the summer where they would not leave the water except for a snack, dose of sunscreen and back in they went.  I will look at this year and realize it is the year that the 8 year old and I by unspoken agreement decided when I do drop off in front of his friends I am to coolly wave goodbye, no longer kissing the top of his head and telling him "have a good day (insert numerous ridiculous nicknames I use for him here)"....we could still do that in the car, windows closed.  This will be the year that we remember that we could live without electronics, though it pained us, for 6 days and that being with one another can be entertaining.

Maybe we will remember that this year taught us to be grateful.  Thankful for still having a home after a hurricane, for having the luxury of having electronics to begin with.  We could look back on 2012 as the year that the kids learned a lot about politics - that voting is important and not to be taken lightly.  It was the year that more memories were made with friends and I got to spend more time with people who actually make my life that much better.  In 2012 some new friendships were started and others reacquainted.  It was the year that I saw family seem to get older so I sighed a little less and tried to be more patient with them.

I choose to remember the good books, the great meals at wonderful restaurants, the collection of Sunday dinners with our close friends, the music and most of all I choose to acknowledge the negative things by being grateful for all that is sooooo good in my life.

Happy New Year - 2013 you have a lot to live up to and I look forward to it...