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SCHOOLS COLUMN: Community will need to pull together to survive budget cuts

I went to hear Congressman George Miller speak in Richmond earlier this month. With the new lines that took effect Jan. 1 Iím no longer in his district, but I was hoping heíd have some ideas for coping with the massive budget cuts facing our school district.

Not surprisingly, talk of war dominated the session. I realize the significance of the war issue towers over the question of what to do about our school district budget. Still, itís too important to ignore.

Miller had no easy answers on either issue except to suggest it is time we really take advantage of our democratic process and make our priorities known to our elected officials by whatever means we can. Miller noted that there are places in the world where people are willing to risk monsoons to go out and exercise their right to vote, and we have trouble getting people to mail in ballots.

If ever there was a time for us to stop being political slackers, it is now. Iíll concede that speaking out for peace takes precedent, but we canít afford to neglect other issues like education in the meantime. So between following the news and marching for peace, letís take time to figure out how best to not only survive this mess but make progress in education through it all. There is a history of people pulling together in a crisis, so weíve got that much going for us. And saving education, while not as monumental as war and peace, should at least be easier to agree on.

Iíve attended one recent board meeting on the budget cuts and listened to parts of two others on the radio. It is understandable that teachers, parents and students are upset at the deep cuts that are proposed, but weíre going to need to do more than unload on the school board.

When we were slogging along without much progress in contract negotiations last year, the PTA president at my school, Robert Studdiford, sent out a message pressing both the district and employee unions to, in the interest of the students, work harder at finding a solution. As angry, scared or frustrated as we might be, we need that message more than ever this year. We need administrators, teachers, and other employees, students and their families working on possible solutions. We need to add people to the conversation who arenít normally involved in the details of school operations. Our schools took a big hit more than a decade ago and the community has made great gains over the past few years in recognizing that when education is hurt, it affects the whole community. Letís acknowledge that from the get-go this time and get the best expertise our community has to offer tackling this problem quickly and from all angles Ė saving money, raising money, getting non-financial support, and through political action.

Working in our favor is all the progress weíve made in our district over the past couple years on developing professional skills such as collaboration. If those advances are to mean anything, we must put them to use at this critical time.

Wire editor Betty King Buginas wrote this column for the West County Times.

Run dates: 2003-03-28 - 2003-04-12

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