To The Editor:
Currently the Tri-Town and St. Lawrence Central School community is going through a very difficult time. Often, when times are trying, it is easy to point fingers and blame each other instead of working together to solve the problem. I am saddened by the fact that my community seems to be casting blame at each other instead of working toward viable solutions.
For those who are not personally effected by the issues with our current school budget, it is easy to sit back and say, if only we had more money, or isnt it horrible, or I wish things could be different. While it is important to show empathy, it is more important to take action. Sitting back requires no courage and no effort. Waiting for things to happen does not change the circumstances.
I am asking for the members of my community- all of the members- to get involved.
First, let me disclose that I am a parent, a tax payer, a community member, and a school employee. Therefore, every aspect of my life is impacted by the decisions that are made at the school. My kids futures, my bank account, my home value, and my job security all hinge on the decisions that are made by our administration and Board of Education.
When money is tight, the easiest thing to do is look at where the money is spent and cut back. If our household budget is tight, we look to spend less on luxuries such as cable television, cell phones, recreational vehicles, and high car payments. When a school budget is tight, it is harder. In a poor, rural district such as ours, there are no luxuries. Every person, from the newly hired administrator or cafeteria worker to the veteran bus driver, cleaner, and teacher is needed and in my opinion deserves to be valued.
As a parent, the school is where I send the most precious people in my life to learn, discover, and grow. On a daily basis my children have contact with several teachers and teachers aides, cafeteria workers, the principal, the cleaners, and the office secretaries. Each and every one of these people not only affects my childrens development, they also affect their mood and their feelings about themselves and their community. Therefore, I want all of these people to try their hardest and be compensated for their efforts. My children deserve the best and the people who come in daily contact with them should be respected and valued.
Second, in my role as a teacher and parent, the selfish thing to do would be to support the current budget proposal as my job is not at risk and my children most likely will not be affected next year. As a matter of fact, if the school does spend the money too quickly and is unable to open in the near future, not only will my children have to go to another school, I will be out of a job that I love, my salary and benefits will be gone, and my house, most likely, will be worth much less than it is now. I cannot, however, support the current budget proposal.
I do believe that Mr. Vigliotti and the BOE have a rational argument for not dipping further into the fund balance. They are making a decision based on the numbers, based on what they believe gives us the best chance to stay open a year or two longer.
I, on the other hand, believe that you do not annihilate program for the sake of gaining a year or two more and it appears as if several neighboring school boards believe the same. Canton Central School, for instance, is dropping to a fund balance below $100,000 so they do not need to cut program. We have 2.7 million in our fund balance. Are our young men and women really worth less than those at Canton Central? Can we not take the $670,000 needed to keep the most basic classes from this $2.7 million? When they are applying for college, our sons and daughters will be competing with these students who have more diverse transcripts and experiences. When they go on to post secondary education, they will not have had the bare minimum necessary to compete at a collegiate level. Is this really OK? Especially when we consider that we have the money right now to provide the bare minimum for them?
I believe that financially things are grim, but that we are not alone in our circumstance and that there will be a way for all of the schools in St. Lawrence County to stay afloat without destroying the futures of the most important members of the community.
School is not only where our sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters learn computation, reading, and writing it is where they find out who they are. I look at the students who will be affected if the current budget passes. Cutting these teachers will destroy art programs, music programs, business and language programs to name a few. Cutting these programs will deny a good number of our young men and women to fully develop as individuals. Cutting these programs will remove many people who have dedicated their lives and careers to our community and our children. Cutting these programs will devastate members of our family.
These classes are the places where many of our children learn to define themselves. If the administration and board were to suggest we cut all sports programs, I am sure many in our community would revolt. Art, music, language and business pursuits are as important as athletic pursuits. The student who spends 30 hours working on a pointillism piece or 8 weeks after school and weekends preparing for a performance, or an entire semester studying entrepreneurship, or dreams of visiting Paris is just as important at the student who plays hockey, lacrosse, and basketball.
Thankfully for the sports programs, they constitute a very small portion of a school budget and cutting them does not make any significant savings. Cutting three or four teachers does. But when the elimination of these few teachers means the elimination of entire programs, isnt this the same as dissolving all of our sports teams? Shouldnt we stand up and ask why? Shouldnt we demand more for our children? Just because developing our artistic students pursuits rely on a few fairly paid teachers, does it mean that their dreams are less important than our athletic students?
To be clear, not supporting the current budget affords me no personal benefit. My kids are currently involved in sports, not the arts. My job is safe for now. And if things do not change, advocating using more of the fund balance would only speed up my own job termination and my children having to go to a different school. I do believe, however, that being part of a community means thinking about someone and something other than myself. It is about all the members of the community. It is about all of our children. It is about all of our futures.
I am not proposing that we raise taxes. We all are managing difficult household finances. We are paying more to heat our homes, National Grid has risen exponentially, and food and gasoline prices are not going down. I do believe, however that the rainy day that we may have been saving for is here. I believe that using a portion of the 2.7 million dollar fund balance to save the most courses and opportunities for our children is the very least that we can do. I believe that eliminating these people and these programs is not who we are as a community and it is not what we do.
Let me end with an analogy. Because Brasher is a close knit community and because the school is the center of that community, all of the people are part of a very large family. The $2.7 million in the reserve fund I will equate to $250 in my family bank account. The $670,000 needed to keep all the employees that have been cut, I will equate to $70 that I currently need for my family.
The analogy: I need $70 to feed my children this week. I do not need it for a new Wii game or to take them to the movies, I need it for milk, cereal, bread, and eggs. I have $250 in my bank account that I could use, however, I am afraid that I might need that money several months from now. What do I do? Do I send my children away to live with another family who can feed them? Do I tell them that they must go hungry, even though I know it will stunt their growth and threaten their health? No. I use the money in my account. I find a way to make more money in the future, and I take care of my family.
I will vote no on the budget as it stands. I cannot support a plan that so disregards the needs of our students. I know that, if the board chooses, this could lead to further cuts. I also know that the board has the option to rework the budget and use a larger portion of the fund balance to maintain the most basic programs.
I implore the board of education to hear our concerns and reconsider these cuts and I entreat my community members to get involved and make your voices heard.
Margaret D. Snyder