Not an easy time for public officials | OPINION

The scene: Members of a Snohomish County school board stopped for coffee when returning from a visit to the Education Services District (ESD) facility in Mount Vernon. Matt, the board’s chairman, said, “This isn’t a meeting, you know.”

Liz: “Gotcha. No official business, go easy on the shop talk. Even so, let’s try not to waste each other’s time like in the board room last week.”

Larry: “Yeah. The press really creamed us after the last budget session. ‘School Board spends two hours playing what-if.’ Trouble is, they were right.”

Anica: “So? We’d just found out that even after the last round of cuts, we’re still dealing with about nine dollars for every ten dollars of need. The press wanted all the answers. We didn’t have them. We still don’t.”

Matt: “Well, we can’t sit on our hands. We’re pretty much agreed on across-the-board cuts with exceptions. You know, so everyone feels the squeeze.”

Larry: “That’ll be different. Usually when we squeeze, we dodge upsetting the community by limiting cuts to areas that are less visible, cutting program without seriously offending voters. We obviously need a different way of looking at this mess.”

Matt: “If you’re about to lay a suggestion on us, do try to keep it theoretical. We can’t let this become a meeting so please, try to stay within the spirit, if not the letter of the law.”

Larry: “Okay. Well, first off, given the funds we have to work with, it’s impossible to do everything well. In focusing on things that most deserve support, then other areas will suffer. That is if we’re of one mind that certain parts of our program must thrive no matter what.

Liz: “We know that. Just which sacred cows would you have us slaughter?”

Anica: “Sacred cows? We have an entire herd of them. They’re all sacred. Threaten any one of ‘em and there’s hell to pay. That’s our problem.”

Liz: “Or maybe we should consider losing part of the cobbled-up mission public schools have taken on. It’s all costly.”

Matt: “Cobbled up mission?”

Liz: “Uh-huh. Educate the citizenry, run a college-prep program, be society’s biggest day-care system, run extracurricular activities, minister to every kind of exceptional kid. Maybe it’s too much even for normal times.”

Larry: “The reality is, with salaries accounting for the lion’s share of the budget, there’s no way we can balance the books by tinkering with slivers of the pie-chart. We have to cut more staff!”

Mindy: “Sorry, Larry, but we’ve already cut staff to where it’s unlikely that any program can thrive. I know that this won’t fly, but we might take a look at how much could be saved by dropping athletics.”

Larry: “Are you out of your head? Most of our voters reach for the sports page first. Sports! Aside from their own kids, they don’t give a damn about academic achievement.”

Anica: “Whoa! First, I’m biased here because my kids are athletes. You have to consider that the average GPA of athletes is higher than that of the general student population. Doesn’t that say that sports bolster any school’s academic standing?”

Liz: “Normally, I agree with you, Ani, but you’re pushing a bad correlation. A varsity team is made up of the strongest, healthiest, quickest-thinking kids in school. Sure, they have better GPAs but that’s due to genes, not high school sports.”

Matt: “It’s not a new thought. Listen to a few things I picked up cruising the web; Minnesota proposed trimming back the number of games per season. Tournaments, too. Virginia’s Lee County is about to cut athletics, depending on what their state assembly comes up with. Oregon’s north Clackamas and Forest Grove districts have stopped funding cross-country, swimming, tennis and golf. Eugene cut $400,000 from its athletic budget. Florida’s High School Athletic Association is planning cuts to every sport except football. How’s that for a sacred cow?”

Larry: “Sacred? Yes, but we have to remember that public school sports are more than an activity. They’re rooted in local culture. Dads and granddads played sports and spend their Friday nights watching their kids play. I’m warning you, guys. Mess with this at your peril.”

Liz: “Larry, dear, that was shamefully sexist and I totally disagree. Given the budget shortfall and what already done to classroom education, we can’t leave anything off the table. No, no, no. I totally oppose wimpy behavior like Florida’s in singling out football. Let’s show some courage here.”

Larry: “Sorry Liz. I just think it’s wise to remember that there will be consequences and that it’ll be up to us to deal with that, too.

Matt: “Are we getting anywhere?”

Anica: “ Maybe. We’ve stirred some new thoughts, but like you said, this isn’t the proper time or place to bring them up.”

Matt: “Anyone else?”

Mindy: “I’m okay. I think my mind’s in a better frame for our next scheduled meeting.” She stands and collects her purse. “Time to go now. Kids will be coming home soon.”

Matt: “Thanks, guys. Coffee’s on me.”

Comments may be sent to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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