Saturday, March 05, 2005

School districts are increasingly using "Nuclear Option'

Nick Coleman coined the phrase "Your schools are burning" as a metaphor for budget cutting measures. Someday soon, Nick may not be speaking metaphorically as a school district decides it's just too expensive to keep sprinkler systems and fire alarms up to code. Out of the question? Probably, given the regulations and mandates regarding fire prevention in schools, all good things. But see if you can't follow me here.

I live in ISD 196, where it seems every 6 months there is another referendum to increase the district's budget. More often than not, the proposal is voted down, as the residents here seem intent on making the district live within its means. But, no sooner is the matter seemingly settled after a vote, the same or similar referendum is put forward for another vote. People finally get tired of showing up to do their civic duty, and the referendum passes.

This 'wear them down' strategy is effective, but school districts also have another weapon in the arsenal when trying to get an increase in the budget. This 'nuclear option' is familiar to everyone: You want to keep education spending at current levels? Fine. The district will just tell you that there will be no more buses and the kids will have to walk to school (BTW: I did when I was an urchin, and it didn't kill me!). You vote down the spending referendum? No problem. The school will cut one period off of the school day and disrupt Mom's schedule. These things are thought through, and are designed to make sure that the penalty for voting down the measure will directly impact the lives of the whole family. There is never any consideration given to cutting back on things like the student radio or T.V. station (yes, I can turn to channel 10 in my district and see school productions worthy of ESPN), or the number of school psychologists available to help the little darlings deal with the trauma of failing a test.

I have insider knowledge as to some of the things that pass for 'education' at one of the schools in the district. I was surprised to learn that popular movies are often used to teach concepts and make learning 'more interesting and fun!' Recently, The Matrix was shown during a physics class, after which there was a discussion period related to enumerating all the scenes where the laws of motion were defied or stretched.

We really need to start holding accountable the people responsible for spending our money and educating our kids. Public education has become a black hole, and all it does is suck more money into itself and turn out graduates who are trailing the rest of the world in most academic disciplines. When I hear that they're watching movies in physics, and then they come to me and ask for more tax money, I get a little ticked.

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