Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why this is not a foregone conclusion

A friend just forwarded me this link to the report in today's local paper on our city school district's budget gap:

With the state looking to close its budget deficit, the district is facing a $2.4 million cut in state aid for the 2012-13 school year under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget plan, business manager Lisa Weeks said.

This decreases state aid to levels below six years ago, she said. The legislature still has to weigh in on the issue before a final state budget is approved. The deadline is April 1.

With this loss of federal funds and other revenue, the district is taking several initiatives. These includes offering retirement incentives to reduce staffing, working as a team to come up with possibilities, writing legislators to help them understand the impact if the cuts are made, and communicating with staff and community.

Interestingly enough, the newspaper did not report a school closure as a possibility. Of course, the rest of us are aware that it probably is.

When I started this blog post, there were only three comments online, but they make clear that there are a number of community members who seem convinced that a school closure is inevitable - and that the school that ought to close is the one that my daughter and her friends currently attend.

What bothers me about the comments are the suggestions that operating four community-centered schools is a "waste" of taxpayer money; that concerning which building, if any, should be closed, "the cut is clear"; and that "even with the school closing doesn't mean children have to be affected. All you are doing is essentially closing down a building and all the costs it incurs."

I understand as well as the commenters that we very well might be forced to close a school, but I think it also ought to be understood that the "savings" themselves come at such a cost that we as a community need to approach a school closure as a careful, deliberate process.

Simply closing a school will not solve the problem by itself. If only it were that simple, then the many communities that already have had to close their schools should be better off, expanding the opportunities for students and restoring the programs that were cut, but this is not necessarily the case. I am afraid that the research that I have been reading about school closures contradicts the comment about children not being affected and closing a building being simple.

This is why I think we cannot treat school closure as the foregone conclusion.

I will be upfront about it being my particular wish to see my neighborhood school open b/c it is unquestionably a vibrant place, where I see my daughter and her friends thriving, and its continued existence is so vital to the place that we call home. I know that other parents must feel the same about their neighborhood schools, and I will not support closing any one of their schools for the sake of saving my own. If any one of our schools closes, then we all will feel it. So, for the moment, can we all just agree not to turn this into a fight among ourselves - and if / when a school closes, can we also agree to try to handle it as sensitively and patiently as such a loss deserves?

I want to reserve my anger for the unfairness with which our entire school district - and our neighboring school districts in NYS - have been treated.

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