Children as Political Hostages in an Empty Room in Cumberland

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Marcia Green’s Valley Breeze article on the Cumberland School Department’s threatened cuts if its budget isn’t increased by more than the mayor has proposed caught my attention when Monique tweeted it thus: “Cumberland School Committee issues list of (budget) hostages; threatens to start shooting.”

This sort of thing takes place all over the state — probably the country — and it’s a good example of why it’s dangerous to attempt to do things through government.  Everything’s a battle.

For contrast, try to imagine a similar situation for a private school.  It’s actually not that difficult, with so many smaller schools that serve working-class populations closing.  They don’t berate the parents with threatened cuts.  Instead, they very often try to increase programming, asking faculty and staff to pitch in to move a plan forward, and then asking parents to volunteer in order to minimize tuition increases and ensure the best educational experience for the students.

If faculty, staff, and parents don’t step up, it’s on them.  Note this, for example, from Green’s article:

Monday’s subcommittee meeting drew a half-dozen parents, including Laura Sheehan and Linda Haviland, who were not only speaking against the proposed cuts, but beginning to prepare for Town Council hearings.

Cumberland has nearly 5,000 students, and about six parents showed up at a meeting discussing supposedly dire cuts in programming.

Perhaps one of those parents should research the budget of Cumberland’s schools.  As it happens, I’ve been doing just that, looking into comments made by Sen. Ryan Pearson (D, Cumberland, Lincoln) about the cost of charter schools during the hearing the other day on the Bright Today legislation.

In the five years ending with the current one, Cumberland Schools’ revenue and expenditure increases have averaged a little more than 4%.  Meanwhile, its October enrollment has dropped an average of 2% per year over those five years.  That has led to average per-student expenditure growth of 6.21% — or 5.34% if we take out the tuition paid to charter schools.  Inflation, by contrast, has averaged around 1.7% per year.

Discussions about schools should be sensitive.  Maybe one of the reasons parents and other members of the community are checking out is that they aren’t being offered decisions; they’re being whipped into inexplicable frenzy.  The first approach is empowering; the second is enervating.

The tone should not be “give us more money or else.”  It should be, “here’s where we are, here’s why these are the best steps to take, and here’s what we can do to live within the means that the people paying the bills are willing to provide.”

Of course, a calm recitation of reasonable options might lead people to choose them.  Where would that leave the folks with very healthy salaries and unparalleled benefits working for the system?



  • Warrington Faust

    While the public, private comparison is not without merit; I think the issue is the degree of power the schools believe they hold. I will never forget a parents meeting at my daughter’s private school (Buckingham, Browne & Nichols). Several parents objected to a proposed change in the curriculum. The “head of school” announced that if students were not supported by their parents, “their grades could be degraded”. I thought it a clear message that students would be punished for having obstreperous, paying, parents. Although there were many incidents which made my head spin, I thought she received a good education. How about this one? They planned a “60’s dance” for students. It was voted that they could not play music by black artists, that would be “robbing the black culture to entertain white people”.

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