Field notes: Wake up and smell the smoke ??? or not

Rarely do I come home from a school board meeting without wanting to scream, ?Call in the National Guard!??

To change metaphors, I could spin the globe, eyes closed, and put my finger just about anywhere on our little school district map to find what to my eyes looks like a train wreck and to others, based on the reactions,?the regular delivery van.?

Last night, our board received a ?hand carry? sheet titled, ?2011-12 Budget Development Information.?? (A ?hand carry? is always bad news; by definition, it is what the administration wants to spring on the board, at the public meeting, so it has no time to review it or prepare.)? Our tiny New York state district ? 2,000 kids ? faces a budget gap, according to the sheet, of $3,688,033 and a choice ? this is only preliminary, mind you -- between raising local property taxes 14.9% and laying off 32 teachers (16% of the total faculty) or raising taxes 3.9% and shedding 71 teachers (35%).? If it sounds Hobbesian, it's meant to.?

Sure, the district is overburdened with too many overpaid administrators and too many underpaid aides, too many uncoordinated programs, too many bad teachers, too many special ed kids, no curriculum -- but chopping-block budget numbers are always limited to teachers so that?parents will start conjuring up images of classrooms of 50 and 60 students.? Oh horror!

The real horror, however, was on a one-page sheet ? this was not on the agenda and was meant to be buried -- titled, ?Summary of January 2011 Regents.? ?The sheet had a very simple chart showing results of the Regents Exams -- the tests taken by all New York State high schoolers, many of which have to be passed for graduation. Easy to read:? Exam subject, number of students who took the exam, number of students who passed: ?41 kids took Integrated Algebra and only 10 passed; 27 took Global History, 5 passed.? Of the ten exams given that fateful January day, only 34 of the 129 students who took them (26%) passed.? And this was before any budget crisis.? ?We'll look into it,? said the Super.?

When failure has taken hold of a district, it is very difficult to root out.? ?I hate to say it, but in many ways I welcome the fiscal crisis.? It?may just be our National Guard and may, I hope, throw open the school house doors.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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