School funding woes

When I started this Project 365 thing, I figured I’d spend a whole year photographing my simple life. I take hundreds… no thousands… of pictures a year, but I know that I can’t share most of them. I photograph our students from school, and while I think each and every child is beautiful and special, I can’t just post their photos without permission from their families and the district. While I love my life, I really didn’t think too much would happen that would be a great interest to anyone but my family and me.

Today’s picture is different though.

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Tonight was the Arlington ISD school board meeting.  The main reason for the meeting was to allow the community to speak about the proposed cuts for the coming school year.

I’ve been to school board meetings before, but never one like this one!  The board room was filled.

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A conference room down the hall was set up for people to watch the meeting.

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There were TVs in the lobby where people were sitting on the floor and watching. There was even a big screen set up outside, and many people (including me) sat under the full moon and bright stars to watch the meeting as well.

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These pictures were taken relatively early (not quite 7 PM).  Even more people arrived after I took these pictures!

Everyone there wanted to discuss the budget cuts that the district has proposed that will impact every aspect of education in the district.   In a school district that proudly proclaims to put the children first, the cuts are really hard to take.

Let’s take my corner of the universe as an example.

  • My school has three Teachers’ Assistants (TAs) for Kindergarten.  Two will be cut, leaving one TA to tend to all four Kindergarten classrooms.  Our Kindergarten TAs teach Phys Ed for Kindergarten teachers, help prepare materials for classes, help out in the office if needed, help out with arrival and dismissal duties, help the kids at lunch, and provide hands and eyes so that the teachers can spend one-on-one time with the kids who need it (which, let’s face it, is every child at some time or another).  Ever seen a teacher try to single-handedly try to control 20+ kids without any assistance?  I haven’t, but I don’t HAVE to see it to know that I don’t EVER want to see it!
  • We’re losing our Guidance Tech, who helps the Counselor with all of the testing that needs to be done.  (Thanks to No Child Left Behind, there’s tons of testing!  Someone has to crunch those numbers!)  She also helps the Counselor prepare for lessons, which frees of the Counselor to listen to children who need a shoulder to cry on and to help parents figure out how to better care for their children.  The Guidance Tech also helps out in the office on really busy days and occasionally takes care of children in those gaps between the time that they are done with school and the time when their parents can pick them up.  (That last part isn’t required, but our Guidance Tech is a team player!)
  • We’re losing our lunch monitors that oversee the cafeteria and keep the tables clean between groups.  Teachers who currently use their lunch times for planning, parent conferences, or group meetings will have to scrap that so they can oversee the cafeteria next year.
  • The Board is discussing not renewing the contracts of all teachers on “Probationary Contracts” (anyone who has been with the district three years or less).  It doesn’t matter if the teacher is a better teacher than a longer-term teacher.  It doesn’t matter if the teacher came in to our district with experience.  Our school will lose four teachers if this happens.  Their spots will be filled with teachers from other schools that have closed (no matter if those teachers are good or bad).  For the record, all of our “Probationary” teachers show great promise.  It would hurt to lose them!
  • The Board is also talking about elimination Orchestra and Band for 5th and 6th graders.  Our district doesn’t have lots of claims to fame, but not too long ago (three years or so?), the district was rated in the top 10 Orchestra programs in the country.  Other districts (including the neighboring Mansfield ISD) are changing to emulate the model in our district.  Our Orchestra students (even the ones that aren’t first chairs or, as my daughter calls them, “cardboard box” kids who started playing the violin practically at birth) can compete for scholarships now.  Can they do it without the extra training?  Not likely.
  • There are also other wild ideas like cutting Elementary librarians, increasing class sizes, cutting Pre-K, cutting… you name it… It’s likely a possibility!

What is not being planned is dipping into the cash reserves from the “rainy day fund” or oil and gas profits.  The Board is worried about whether it’s raining hard enough (which makes me wonder what they know that we still don’t know).

The one thing that was clear from tonight’s meeting is that everyone is fed up.  It’s clear to everyone that funding for schools is seriously messed up.  A few years ago, we got a tax rollback.  Now we’re short money.  In first grade, we’d call that an example of cause and effect.  I’m not sure what the board is calling it!

I didn’t get up to speak at this meeting.  They only allowed two minutes, and only a loon would think that you can sum up the problem and the possible solution in two minutes or two hundred words.  However, I do have an opinion.

It seems to me that the funding model for American schools were created in a time when:

  • People purchased their homes, became rooted in their communities, and stayed there forever.
  • People invested their own resources into their own homes.
  • The Federal government had fewer mandates on test standards, and the ones that did exist were reasonably funded by the agency that set the requirement.
  • There were fewer discipline problems than today. (And/Or schools were less tolerant of discipline problems.)
  • There was much less litigation than today.

All of these have had the result of driving up the cost of education while simultaneously requiring more children to be educated to a greater standard with less money.

The model for funding needs to change with the times.   Find a way to tax families that rent, especially those where two or more families live in a single residence.  Find a way to get businesses to invest in schools to a greater extent.  (That’s what they do in many other countries.)  Realize that, if we are to compete with other countries’ schools, we have to be willing to pay for it.  (Right now, I think people are willing to pay for it, but the politicians are so afraid that they won’t be re-elected that they won’t recommend raising taxes.  The fools won’t be re-elected anyway at this point.)

In addition, our society needs to realize how incredibly important parents are to the education process and how important it is to be more responsible parents.  That’s a rant for another day though…

Time stops here
In the meantime, I’ll just point out an ironic sight from the foyer of the district offices.

What does it mean when the clock in the district offices has stopped?

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