Sometimes you have to take a step back, then two steps forward to move ahead.
It’s something I’ve heard from school officials and told myself countless times in my personal life, especially over the last year: Change isn’t easy. Sometimes, making a meaningful change means doing something you don’t want to do, but you feel it’s what’s best in the long run.
Obviously, I’m referring here to the school system’s plans to move toward fewer, larger elementary schools. A plan that includes closing Unity Elementary School. It’s been a polarizing decision, not only because it’s the third school closed in as many years, but because many Unity parents spoke out so passionately against taking their children from a smaller, neighborhood school setting and sending them to larger schools and, in the immediate term, a school that will require a longer commute – significantly longer for those within walking distance of Unity.
It’s a legitimate concern. Having a school in your neighborhood provides a sense of security and knowledge that your child isn’t far from home. A smaller school means administrators and teachers are more likely to know their students on an individual level and give more personalized attention.
When school administrators presented their concerns for keeping finances above water, many parents rightly pointed out that decisions should be made in the best interest of the children, not to save the bottom line. However, there is a harsh reality: the school system has to make up that shortfall to continue operating. It doesn’t have the option of going into deficit.
It’s disturbing that more than half of the school system’s funding comes from the state, not local sources. We can’t fund our children’s education independently. There is waste in the amount of bureaucracy mandated by state and federal sources which affects teachers’ ability to do their jobs. However, without following those mandates, the state can intervene, accreditation can be threatened. It’s ridiculous, but it’s the ugly reality – some of the most wasteful spending the board can’t cut without bringing down state sanctions.
The most crowd-pleasing decision would have been for the school board to take the entire shortfall from the school system’s reserve funds. However, that is a temporary solution. Anybody that’s had to float between jobs can tell you that having some money in savings is a necessity, and dipping into it to pay bills leaves a bitter taste, and pulling from savings for a luxury is just hurting yourself.
When your expenses exceed your income, you have two options: raise your income or cut expenses. Unless you can get a raise, or a second job, selling a few things on eBay to make it between paychecks is only a temporary option. I’ve been there … heck I’m there right now — anybody want to buy a guitar pickup?
So you have to come to what’s expendable – cut down on electricity and water usage, cut off the TV and Internet, buy the cheap stuff at the store, no concerts, no CDs, no movies, no going out, no haircuts (OK, that’s cheating) – then look at what isn’t – utilities, gotta have that; insurance, legally have to have it; child support, obviously; gas … I guess I could invest a bicycle. If you cut it down to the bare minimum and your expense-to-income ratio still doesn’t cut it, you know it’s time for more drastic measures.
That’s where I found myself recently. In the last year, it’s been a continual struggle to keep up with my home, not only the costs associated, but the inability to maintain a large home that I barely even spent time in, which will likely mean more maintenance costs down the road. That’s why I had to make the decision recently to sell it.
From an objective standpoint it sounds simple: you can’t afford it, so you don’t need it. But on the ground level, it’s a much more hard-fought decision. When I go back to all the arguments I had with myself over the last year about basically pulling the trigger on this decision, all my reasons for not doing so were selfish: I wouldn’t have the privacy of my own place, I probably wouldn’t be able to keep my dog, I wouldn’t be able to afford another place near as big, I wouldn’t have the autonomy of ownership, I wouldn’t have the luxury of keeping all the junk I have space to fit … and I was just starting to appreciate the luxury of getting home at 3 a.m. after a concert without worrying about waking anybody up.
I’m not saying Unity parents are selfish by any means, or at least if they are it’s for good reasons. As parents, we are programmed to want what’s best for our children, that’s a given. However, the school board has the inglorious burden of thinking of what’s best for all the school system’s children, even if it means that one group gets the short end of the stick.
They have to consider the school system’s ability to move forward and continue balancing its budget for not just one more year, but the foreseeable future. When that future looks bleak and the only way decisions that are going to get you through it involve making sacrifices, sacrifices will have to be made. Former board chairman John Darden put it perfectly, there are no good options left.
I’m not saying all this in some desperate plea to defend the school board. They’re elected to make these decisions and take the flak for it. That’s what they signed up for. What I am saying is that sometimes – maybe most of the time – the best decision isn’t going to make most people happy. It just bugs me when I hear people making criticisms that can offer no viable alternatives. It’s easy to say you wouldn’t make the unpopular decision, it’s not so easy to say how.
I’d rather make what I feel is the right decision and be hated for it than make a bad decision that people will like me for. Not saying I’m right, but that’s just how I feel.
Now, seriously, anybody want an 8-string electric guitar pickup, never used – eBay, people. I got bills to pay.