So, I probably haven’t brought it up but my old school district sent out prelim lay-off notices last Friday. 300 teachers received letters informing them that their positions were being cut. These aren’t “pink slips”. Schools aren’t required by state law to issue those until April 30th. The letters are a heads up. In twenty years, I don’t recall the district tipping its hand in writing or on such a scale.
I went through two “reductions” personally and I was also informed in person and then reassigned once the state legislature approved the education budget – something they typically do in March or early April.
These letters then are the district’s way of saying – don’t hold your breath because the state will not be relenting on the cuts. There’s no money and none is on the way.
One of the easy fixes to budget dilemmas is to cut from the outside in which means get rid of everything that is considered “extra” to save the core subject areas. Stuff like music, art, PE, school nurses, after school activities, sports, field trips though not in that order.
Here in Canada a lot of what is being cut now in Des Moines doesn’t exist. Dee’s school doesn’t have a lunch program, school nurse, counselor, PE or art teacher. That’s standard for elementary and with the exception of the last three – it applies to junior/senior high too. In addition, kids who open enroll to schools outside their designated areas have to pay for busing or find their own transportation. Sports are largely outside school as is music where learning to play instruments are concerned though there is band and whatnot at the upper levels. Canadians fund the core first and expect parents to pick up a lot of slack.
But here’s what struck me, the days following the cuts, I see all these Facebook statements decrying the lay-offs and bemoaning the fact that music in particular will cease to exist in the form of a designated teacher at the elementary and middle schools. I see people starting Facebook “protest” groups – probably to “raise awareness” among the choir folk but I don’t see anyone offering a solution or organizing real life protests or even rationally dealing with the fact that – there really is NO money.
And then by last night, Facebook statuses are back to gushing about Survivor or the Bachelor because …?
The second time I was reduced it was because I stuck my neck out and to save the librarian – who never thanked me but she’s welcome anyway.
It was after Will had been diagnosed and I knew he was going to die. I’d put him in the nursing home that fall. I was in grad school. I was insanely strapped for cash most of the time and by this time, Will had been dying for so long that most people had forgotten that my life was not “back to normal” though I am sure it appeared so on the surface to most of the people I worked with.
Zee, our principal, announced that he had x number of staff to cut and that one of the positions would be the librarian and the rest of the folk would just be assignment shuffles because there were retiring folk to make up the remainder of the body count.
The librarian was distraught, but no one really liked her. Her personality precluded any great out-pouring of support beyond – “well that’s going suck for us because we use the library a lot”.
The nature of what we were doing at the time in terms of instruction meant the library was in use constantly. It was not a little thing to give up. No librarian would mean chaos in terms of scheduling and checking materials in/out. We needed the librarian.
So I wrote an email stating the case for keeping her and cutting somewhere (one) else. I hit send. I campaigned door to door – really. The admin relented and decided to cut my position instead. I knew that this would probably happen when I wrote the email. I also knew it was logical and in the best interests of the students.
But I needed that job in that building. Going to another school, which I would have been easily reassigned with my seniority, would have broken me. I didn’t have the reserves to start fresh or to cajole new co-workers and admin into assisting me prop up my precariously arranged existence. Fortunately, Zee knew this to and juggled things so I would simply be moved to another position. He had to inconvenience a few teachers to do it. I am grateful still for what he did for me.
I am not advocating for anyone to offer themselves up in the present scenario. There will be no transfers and the vast majority of the 300 will not be working next fall. But it seems to me that Facebook groups and indignation are pointless in the face of reality. The whole “no money” thing. The state doesn’t have it and the Feds are not likely to supply it without strings.*
It’s easy to start a Facebook protest – or even organize a march on the state legislature with signs and speeches and the local media (they generally do that over the up-coming Spring Break which means that only those without vacation plans will attend – if the weather isn’t too cold or rainy).
What’s harder is facing reality and deciding what kids really need in the long-term and what is just extra and can be shouldered by families. Families can actually shoulder quite a bit, but American society is not in the habit of ponying up anymore.
My siblings and I walked to music lessons every Wednesday afternoon for a couple of years. My father paid for it and we were by no stretch well-off. Our sports were largely league and hot lunch was a twice a year treat sponsored by the women’s prayer society. We walked to school. We didn’t have a librarian, shop teacher, art teacher and we only had a music teacher when the sisters happened to have someone to spare for the duty. After the last music teacher died, in the middle of my 8th grade year, there wasn’t another one for years.
What’s important? What are you willing to personally sacrifice – a step raise? insurance? take a pay cut? go to a shorter school week or have regular furloughs like they’re doing in Hawaii? Will you give up contracts and go to salary or hourly wages? There are fixes. There are always fixes. But they will require some kind of sacrifice.
No one makes sacrifices anymore. They start Facebook groups.
*The strings are closing “failing” schools and firing “ineffective” teachers. No mention is made of what is to be done with the poor quality raw material or their parents.