October 25, 2009
The circle of life, the changing of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides, the pendulum swings of the economy and the cyclical nature of life all show us that there is a certain inevitability in all things. As we work to enhance student opportunities in a time of decreasing resources, strive to maintain a whole child approach to education in a period of enhanced and very stringent testing protocols, and deal with myriad items in the schools that have little to do with education, it is easy to get caught up in the moment and fail to look ahead and realize that each part of the cycle has benefits as well as negatives. If we only focus on the fact that short days and cold and inclement winter weather are ahead as we move through the fall, we’ll miss the changing foliage, the absence of the biting and stinging insects and those great sunny crisp days that are part of the fall season.
I’m not advocating for glossing over problems, or trying to minimize the difficulties inherent in these cycles. We all know someone who has lost a job, is in foreclosure, or has trouble making ends meet on retirement pay. Yet we should recognize that this too will pass and hopefully our society will learn something from the experience to help with future problems. I’m also aware that in difficult times it is helpful to be flexible and to consider priorities very carefully—to ensure that one doesn’t overreact and enact new policies that do little to help the current situation and may cause larger problems down the road. We all know the saying that difficult times require difficult decisions and we see that in our private lives as well as in public institutions.
I continue to have concerns over the number of potential solutions that are raised at the federal and state levels, almost always through legislation or regulations that put new restrictions or new obligations on either individuals or institutions without considering the costs. I’m sure we can all think of many of these; my favorite now is the fact that we have to train all staff (which by the state’s definition includes school volunteers) in the new ethics regulations. This mandates that we provide a copy of the regulations to staff and volunteers each year, require them to take an ethics test every other year, and requires the district to monitor all of these activities. Whether we take time from the school day, take time away from professional development, or pay for time outside of the contract, this is a labor cost to the district along with monitoring and following up to ensure everyone has completed this new state requirement. As you can guess, the state put this requirement into place but didn’t provide any funding for its implementation. As I look at newly proposed educational legislation I see more of the same—new requirements for schools that impact a minority of students, cost the schools significant resources yet contain no funding mechanism.
Unfortunately. state law is riddled with similar items for everyone with all of us being well aware of the promise of 100% state reimbursement for regional transportation, with the state’s promise of paying its fair share of property taxes on state-owned land and with the promise of paying for special education costs being just a few that directly impact our local taxes. The state covers themselves with the caveat that these payments are all “subject to appropriation”, yet doesn’t provide an out when the state, in order to make their budget balance, cuts funding that local towns and school districts depend on. These funding reductions are also cyclical and yet the enactment of new laws and the enforcement of existing regulations never seem to decline. Where is the realization and resulting actions by elected officials to support flexibility and innovation needed to enable institutions and individuals to survive difficult times?