NOTE: Edited to emphasize this article is an “opinion” piece.
The Luther School Board Monday night approved a RIF (Reduction In Force) policy for certified teachers and support personnel, but the panel did not put individuals or programs on the public chopping block just yet.
Specific cuts of programs and employees are expected to be held during a Special Board Meeting sometime after Spring Break. The public is invited to attend but will the public ever have an ear? There is a lot of hand-wringing and fretting – at stake are the livelihoods of some of those who work at the schools. Also at stake, the quality of education for the students. Tough choices. The whole thing stinks.
This problem, however, has loomed large for several months. I have been teased for seeing life through rose-colored glasses (and it occurred to me that I actually wear pink glasses). Though I might be optimistic, I also teeter on cynicism. Sidenote: one of the many tributes written for Aubrey McClendon last week after his death was a tribute from a former employee recalling McClendon saying “be creative not cynical.” He said being cynical is easy. Being creative gives hope. Building something is hard. Fixing something is harder.
So in my rose-colored glasses purview while fighting cynicism, and newly stepping in to this community with The Luther Register, I thought the issue of the school cuts would be hard, but collective. Roll up your sleeves and lock arms, hold your nose and get the work done. Those with differences would set them aside for this important purpose. (Like grownups do). I’ve seen it work at other places where I’ve worked; it even worked successfully at a congregation we attended. And it certainly happens at home (because I’m starting a newspaper for income!). Lean times all around. Push. Forward motion.
Granted there were signs that all was not rosy with the schools. There was the historic defeat of a bond proposal, the call for a state audit of the school district, the resignation of the board president. Add to that the state’s troubles. A revenue failure from the state is affecting everything and causing historic cuts – from corrections to education.
With all of that, maybe now is the time to ask for help. It seems like the community is ready and willing. But who is listening? Anyone on the school board dais? The public is looking at the agendas and encumbrances posted monthly. We ask and wonder: Why doormat service? New furniture? And WOW, that’s a lot of paper. How much food is thrown away everyday? Could the students and teachers help carry out the trash and tidy the rooms? Would that shave some hours from the maintenance staff whose hours are getting cut? The fabrication class is super cool, but is it duplicative from services offered at the vo-tech? Could they tighten up the cell phone bill? And much more. Obviously, the school board and those in charge are doing all they can, but the point being: communicate that with us.
It is kind of a hassle to hear everyone’s ideas. It must be worse once someone gets into a position of power or authority to hear from the mere public – but is that part of the job? You have to filter through the ideas and concerns from folks who might not particularly know the law, the policy or the nuances. Because there might be a gem in there! A gem of a solution. A listening ear is powerful.
While we deal with the effects, the looming cuts, questions still swirl about the causes. One persistent question is posed by Jennifer Edmunson, who ran for school board. She has asked this at meetings, on social media posts and in a comment on yesterday’s Luther Register story (cut and pasted here, you’re welcome):
I do not diminish the substantial affect the State’s budget crisis has on school districts across the state. However, according to Dr. Buxton’s own slide from the last board meeting, the school district’s budget is over $5.5 million. The loss of $53,000 from the state is equivalent to less than 1% (barely less) of the entire budget. To allow the Superintendent to continue to use the State crisis as an excuse for our current situation is disingenuous. It is not the loss of the 1% but how the 99% is spent which has caused this situation. The math says as much. The auditor says as much. Common sense says as much,” said Edmunson.
But back to the looming cuts. It’s coming down. By the end of the month, “pink slips” will distributed. Programs will be cut. A community will be hurt. Is there a chance for an ear to listen? For a gem to be mined? Let’s keep trying – be creative not cynical.