Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Laboring greatly

All I can say is "Phew!"
There was a good news story in Monday's edition of The Day with a dateline of Norwich and a headline of School Employees Agree to Money-Saving Furloughs but it was more in the spirit of Ben Franklin's Poor Richard, 'a penny saved is a penny earned' even if some of us think 'it's a penny we give to a developer who uses the word precipice when he more than likely meant cusp.'

When I looked at the savings in the education budget outlined in the news story, $200,656, in terms of the total size of the Board of Education budget, 67 million and one hundred thousand dollars, "Phew" sounded a lot more like "Eeew!" Talk about removing a teaspoon of water from the ocean.

This Monday night, at a special city council meeting (= the only item on the agenda will be the deliberations on approving a 2009-2010 budget, is the only item that can be discussed as part of the meeting; if you've ever attended a Norwich City Council meeting you understand why I made this distinction-because our Alderpersons usually don't and we have fire sales on "a motion to suspend the rules for the purposes of introducing ...."), there may or may NOT be a Council vote on a budget in what is for many of us the leanest of all the years we have seen during our time on this earth.

For weeks, many have spoken of shared sacrifice, of lowering expectations, of having more will than wallet but not to worry, what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable. In a way, we could have seen this coming at the departmental budget hearings the City Council held on a series of evenings beginning in April and whose theme seemed to be 'you're kidding, right? Balance the budget elsewhere and leave me alone."

How else to understand, when faced with finite funding to pay for all the municipal goods and services, instead of attempting to accomplish all the necessary municipal tasks AND not tax property-owners until they flee the city, the various city agencies and employees carved up one another in arguments that made up in volume what they lacked in logic.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the spending for education. And while I'm talking specifically about where I live, tell me this doesn't sound a little bit like where you live. Somewhere we confused an unending flow of money spent on a flawed K through 8 school system with "investing in education". That sounds harsh, I know so let me explain 'flawed': when we review Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) scores of Norwich Public Schools, NPS, for the last decade (and longer) we see a downward slope in academic achievement at all grade levels and in all measured disciplines. Why would an absence of measurable positive achievement be considered worthy of an "investment"?

Let me also point out my two children, resettled from Germany where they were born and raised, learned nearly everything they know about their father's country from the NPS. And for them and for me, this was money well-spent and time and talent well invested, but let's go macro instead of micro level. Meaning well and doing well are two entirely different things and NPS seems to have no one with any clue as to how to do the latter, but luckily for them, none of us in the general public can (or will) tell the difference. Throwing MORE money at our schools will do NOTHING to correct their deficiencies or help better educate our children which, supposedly, is what we as parents and residents should want. Instead the approach is always the same and based on test scores, it always fails

At a recent budget hearing the former chairperson of the Board of Education insisted that the City Council find funds for the Board of Education's request because, among other reasons she cited, the local YMCA had closed and the Parks and Recreation Summer programs had been defunded and 'too many poor people' would be impacted by 'cuts' as she termed the funding levels outlined by our City Manager. No logic was harmed in the making of her argument though common sense looked a little bruised when she was done.

EVERYONE is affected by 'cuts' in education, not just "the poor". And, by the way, as a niggling clarification, there is NO cut in the Board of Education's budget. There's just not the increase the administration and the Board wished to to have. Whenever they have to live within our means, they call that budget a 'cut' and we fall for this exercise in rhetoric. And speaking of rhetorical hullabaloo, I'm supposed to believe the only school system in the country with other-than-English-speaking students in it, is right here in the Rose City, and golly it sure is expensive to handle. At least that's the impression I get from listening to the lamentations of various Board members. Except.....

Here's news: the United States is and always has been an immigrant nation. Public education doesn't just TEACH a public, it CREATES a public. Where else should the sons and daughters of people from every corner of this globe, as they have for generations, learn English, history, art, the values and virtues of good citizenship as well as math and science skills if not in public school? When education fails our children, we all fail and that is no longer an option. Let the day begin.
-bill kenny

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