Thursday, March 31, 2011

Berkeley parents given false choice between academics, arts

The question that Berkeley County school leaders, namely Superintendent Rodney Thompson, is asking parents is this: In order to cover a projected deficit in school funding next year, choose which of the following options you'd like us to adopt:
(a) cut funding for art and music;
(b) cut funding for extracurricular activities;
(c) cut funding for sports program "that don't bring in money";
(d) cut funding for classroom supplies;
(e) increase class sizes;
(f) require teachers and administrators to take unpaid furlough days;
(g) charge fees for drivers education; and/or
(h) charge fees for participation in sports programs.

This, of course, is the wrong question to ask of parents.

The right question to ask of parents is a two-parter: First, what do you want your child's school to be? And second, are you willing to elect lawmakers who will fund what you want your child's school to be?

I discussed this already here, but it bears repeating often:

Does the state wants its public schools to meet the intellectual needs of its students -- to meet those students wherever they are, from wherever they've come, with whatever baggage they bring and whatever circumstances they suffer -- and to deliver such instructional services to those children as are necessary to help them, all of them, grow into bright, creative, curious, productive, critical thinkers and analysts, capable of reading with purpose, writing with clarity, speaking with confidence, collaborating and competing with the best minds of our global neighbors and partners, offering leadership for the next era of our state's growth and development?

If that IS what South Carolina wants from its public schools, then the next logical step is to examine what the state is investing -- not investing in our public schools alone, but investing in the lives of the children who haven't yet arrived at school -- and confirming that the investment is sufficient to bring those children to the schoolhouse door ready to learn.

This, really, is the question before Berkeley County's parents now, all those parents who want their children to have a music program available to them, and a "non-income-generating" sports program, and small class sizes, and sufficient classroom supplies, and a full complement of qualified, capable teachers and adminstrators, etc. The Post and Courier reports that more than 800 of them have attended budget presentations across the district, but what I understand parents have taken away is the menu of cuts I described above, not the fundamental principle that once you decide what you want, you have to elect leaders who share your commitment.

The newspaper identified a single family that will be adversely affected by any of the cuts that Superintendent Thompson outlined.

Carrie Wittchow is a sophomore at Hanahan High School who loves to play tennis and participate in the drama program. She's especially worried about tennis, which is a "non-revenue-generating sport," she said. "I don't want to see my favorite activities cut. They keep me going."

Her mother, Heide Wittchow, is a Berkeley County elementary school teacher. She worries at the mention of furloughs. "I live week to week," she said, adding that she's grateful to have a job in this economic climate.

What do we say to this family? Too bad, so sad, maybe you should move to North Carolina or Georgia? Or do we say to them, public education is a priority in South Carolina, and if it takes calling in some corporate tax revenues from mammoth corporations who pay literally nothing to South Carolina in taxes, then that's what we'll do?

The first option is easy: Our present legislature is adept at telling folks to take what they're given and be happy with it. The second option is harder, because we've dug a hole pretty deep and it's going to take time -- and an election cycle or two, or three -- to get out of it.

But God knows, now is the time to start that process. It's tough today, but tougher times are coming.

Thompson said that next school year will be tough, but the budget shortfall in the 2012-2013 school year likely will be worse. To compensate for that shortfall, the district might have to force employees to take multiple unpaid furlough days, cut some positions, place more students in each class and consolidate schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment