Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why we need our neighborhood schools

Last Thursday, the superintendent of our city's school district told parents that the district would consider “drastic measures” that could include ending non-mandatory programs (which include Kindergarten and AP courses) as well as the closing of a school.

I wish to defend the importance and necessity of both the programs that now face elimination and all four of our neighborhood elementary schools.

Across the district, at the elementary schools and at the middle school and the high school, we all have withstood cuts in programs and staff already. I worry about the consequences that further "compromises" will have for our children. What opportunities are they being (and will they be) denied?

Although closing a school is discussed as though it were a solution, it is not. Our community-centered elementary schools are critical in terms of the quality educational experiences that they provide to our children in grades K-6, and the present and future sustainability and growth of Oneonta as a community where families live and work.

A school closure by itself would neither close a financial gap nor prevent further cuts, as reported when the Board of Education undertook its district-wide Space Utilization Study last summer. The budget subcommittee found instead that it would erode the quality of our children’s educational experiences as class sizes increased throughout the district.

In addition, the consequences of closing any one of our four neighborhood elementary schools also would reach well beyond the classroom as neighbors lose their jobs, families sell their homes and move from the area, businesses lose their clients and customers, and we lose the talent and energies of people we need in Oneonta. We also will have even more difficulty attracting new blood to build their businesses here (or work at our two colleges, where I know from experience that search committees can have a hard time "selling" qualified candidates on our small upstate city).

When people start to ask how can we afford to keep what we have, there is only one answer: How can we afford not to keep them?

Yet, these are times when our understanding of what is practical, possible, and necessary have become increasingly constrained - I might even venture to say confused.

Why are we selling out to austerity even the things that matter to us?

We should be fighting it, especially when, in fact, the resources do exist:

Mail your hand-written letters to Albany and demand that they release the $250 million from competitive grants and distribute it to the small city and rural schools that have been most severely affected in these times.

Make your voice heard at Board of Education meetings, letting them know that we need and want for our community a long range vision that both provides support for and draws support from strong neighborhood schools.

We should be fighting it b/c in the end, the things that we sell out now will not come back to us later.

We need to stand now for what we value – like programs that clearly are critical to our children’s learning and community-centered schools, which are among our small city’s attractions and assets.

This is not a matter of either / or. We need them both.

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