Orange Town Meeting 2011


Wind Carved Ice

It was a pretty minimal meeting. We didn’t take the pigs to meeting this year. Will did go as it was his first year voting at town meeting.

No big purchases. No new grader or dump truck. Belts are tight. Spending was level for roads and general town budget. Nothing fancy.

The big news was that long, long, long time town clerk Rita is working on continuity for her office – that is she announced she needs to hire and train an assistant to take over when she retires. She has been doing the job as long as I can remember. Town Clerk = Rita. Hmm… Can anyone else balance that equation? Can anyone else do what she does? Well, she means to make sure that somebody learns how.

Adrian did a good job moderating for his third year. Smoother than before. Amazing since it is a job he does only once a year.

The more interesting discussion happened during the school portion of the meeting where we set the school budget. It was very sad to look over the numbers. I routinely vote “No” against the school budget. They spend too much. $17,297.53 per student per year is absurd! But I felt sad looking at the budget because even though it had gone up almost $200,000, that is nearly 10%, the K-8 kids were getting gypped in a huge way. These are the ones who were supposed to be getting an education. They’re not.

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They are spending about $2,611,928 dollars to school about 106 K-8 kids and 45 highschoolers. About a third goes to high school tuition out of town since we have no high school, just K-8th grade. About 33% of that goes to special education which covers only a few kids. Virtually all of the increase in this years budget was in the special needs category. The school busses and the school building are all paid off and owned by the town. So why does public schooling cost such ridiculous amounts? Why are they spending college level tuition amounts on basic public grade schools?

1) Mandates – The federal government has mandated a lot of programs, especially in the special education arena. Much of this is mainstreaming I’m told. Much is having an aid for every special needs kid. The result is it cost about 5x as much to teach special needs kids than non-special needs kids. This leaves little money to educate the ordinary and the gifted kids. Since they’re not getting the education they need their test scores are falling. About 50% of the students locally are passing the national standards. Ergo, about 50% are failing. That’s an F, a Failing grade over all. Not good.

2) School Choice – This falls under the laws of unintended consequences. It seemed like a great idea, I’m sure, to let kids who didn’t have a local high school choose which one they wanted to go to. The problem is they almost all choose the most expensive school. It actually costs more than college. This takes money away from the regular schooling of the K-8th grade kids because…

3) State Spending Limits – The state first mandates that schools must spend money (#1 above) and then that they can’t limit costs (#2 above) and then it turns around and says that if you spend more than state defined averages you’ll get penalized with less state aid. Not only do you get less state aid but if you spend too much then you have to send extra dollars to the state for every dollar you spend. So to spend one dollar takes more than a dollar. For small schools with high fixed overhead that becomes an impossible burden.

Oh, and did we mention, that the state now takes all of our local tax money, pools it together and then gives us back part of that, if we’ve been good (see #3 above).

The special needs accommodations is something that really doesn’t belong in the school budget. It is more like health care. Society is trying to care for its weakest which is good but putting that budget item in with schools is crippling the schools and destroying the educational opportunity for all. The way it is setup right now is like saying we should use the school budget to provide social security, national defense, food, health care and housing all out of the school budget. Nonsense. Right? The school budget should be about education. It should get back to the basics. Sports, special needs accommodations and other extras need to be separated out and dealt with on a different basis and not through the school budget.

The result is that in order for the town not to trip the state spending limit wire they have to cut somewhere. They can’t cut Special Ed. They can’t cut High School spending. They can’t even predict either one of these. So what they are forced to do is cut the only thing they have left, spending for the kids at the K-8th grades. Yes, indeed, they certainly did that. The school budget for those kids looks like someone took an axe and hollowed it out leaving only a bare skeleton. Even some limbs have been chopped off. Very sad looking.

The legislature, both at the state and the federal levels, are killing public schools with their mandates and regulations. I admire the school board for all the hard work they put into trying to make a budget out of nothing. The state and feds are killing the school slowly. The water is boiling. The pot is hot. The frog won’t hop. I don’t know where this will go.

I’m going to say something extremely politically incorrect: America’s priorities are all screwed up. We should be pushing our best and our brightest to their highest ability rather than the ridiculous goal of No Child Left Behind that mandates that 100% of children must be mediocre by 2014. George W. Bush got it all bass ackwards with this law. Previous mandates (his is not the first or only bad mandate and no political party has a monopoly on this foolishness) have also screwed it all up by mandating spending but not providing support. Now instead of challenging the brightest to their highest level our public schools have become baby sitting centers. Education has become secondary, or lower priority somewhere below sports and warehousing of the kids during the day so parents can be cogs in the machine while they earn enough to pay Uncle Sam and buy goods to stimulate the economy so we’ll have a really Gross Domestic Product. Very sad.

Our solution is that we homeschool. We can educated our kids better at home for 1/100th the cost of public school. Everyone else on our road in now homeschooling. I heard that 20% of our town is now homeschooling. A recent article said that state-wide homeschooling is up from 10% of the kids to 15% now. People are taking action at the personal level and solving the problem themselves. Homeschooling is no longer primarily a religious issue – it is people of all beliefs who want their kids to have a better education than they can get in public schools and they want to be involved in providing that education.

We still pay the taxes to support public school but at least our kids aren’t getting damned by good intentions.

Outdoors: 24°F/8°F Some Sun, 2″ Snow
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/59°F

Daily Spark: Government needs to say “please” and “thank you” more. A lot more.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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8 Responses to Orange Town Meeting 2011

  1. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter, I agree with you, but it is actually worse than you are painting it, maybe because you aren’t in a border state. A few years back I was driving a commuter bus early morning and early evening, with my days open, and my diurnal rhythm precluding naps. So I took a day job administering English competency tests to students at my own old high school in Santa Barbara. Part of that “no child left behind” and California’s total overreaction to it.
    It was horrifying to revisit the place. What had been gleaming clean and well behaved in the sixties had become filthy, with gang marks, dropped food, litter, gum, and filthy graffiti. Additionally, the classes, with few exceptions, were behavioural sinks. Noisy, chaotic, obviously useless. What had been the shop classrooms were taken over by special needs kids, some literally semi-counscious and drooling, others acting out, each with an aide and a computer in front of them. This is a system with no negative feedback loop, afflicted, as you say, by the mandates of unaccountable legislators who are spending other folks’ money.
    One afternoon I stood in the doorway of a classroom, waiting for a break in the Spanish language lecture (all the kids in the room were very recent immigrants) and heard a man taking a California Teacher’s salary telling the kids that California and Texas and Arizona really belong to Mexico, and that the reaction to the “immigration phenomena” was white bigotry. Now I got that job partly because of having functional Spanish. I kept a straight face, but it was hard.
    My own son, with two years’ exception, was privately schooled, though it kept me poor. I was raising him alone, some home schooling and book encouragement was on top of that, but couldn’t be all he needed. Hope your movement spreads. We need it!

    Kno you aren’t running a political commentary blog, not at all offended if you block this.

    David

  2. Pam R. says:

    Our town is one of the rare ones with K-12. They decreed we had to have a new elementary school for some millions a few years back. Our town is 3300 people.

    We homeschooled our son from the beginning mainly because we wanted him to have a good education. And yet, we must shoulder our share of the millions for the school.

    He thought he’d like to try school at the 4th grade level. In October of that year, he was bringing home math papers doing things like 4 + 5 =, etc. I had thought he was right at grade level when he started school. My guess the class was at least a year behind, if not more, in October.

    Anyways, he quickly decided he didn’t want to stay, for many reasons, and we resumed homeschooling.

    As I have a special needs child, I can understand parents who want accommodations. But I can see where the math is crippling the younger children in your town. It may be also in our town. I don’t know what the answer is.

  3. J Jaeger says:

    Thanks for the cogent explanation of the school budgeting mess. It’s SO frustrating, isn’t it?! All that money, all that waste. We are filing your post under “today’s reason,” as in today’s reason we are here to assist in homeschooling our grandchildren. In a few years of noticing “today’s reason,” we have never had to search for it – it’s always there in the headlines, government misbehavior or someone’s personal experience.

  4. Jessie says:

    I am volunteering two days a week at an inner city public school in Atlanta in preparation for teaching high school science full time next year (I just finished my MS in chemistry). I completely agree with an earlier comment that there need to be stronger, more consistent consequences for poor behavior. It turns out that discipline and integrity are the most important qualities to teach, and the most difficult.

    I disagree with focusing resources on “the best and the brightest.” Instead, I believe we should be focusing resources on each student according to their needs. I think that the biggest failing of the standardized testing phenomenon is that it promotes a culture of conformity, as if there is only one “best” way to run a school. Some students clearly need constant activity and would probably benefit from frequent breaks in the day to play sports for 20 minutes. Other students need work on basic social development and would be best served by working with a therapist on a regular basis. And of course there should be schools that focus most intensely on academics for the students who have developed a proper work ethic. I suppose that actually meeting the needs of most children will be expensive, but these kids are worth it. As terrible as they can behave as a class of 20, each of them can be respectful and enjoyable to work with as individuals. I wonder if the greatest advantage of homeschooling is that the class sizes are usually so small :)

    This is not to say that 50% of students failing a standardized test is in any way acceptable. The Georgia Graduating Test science section is basically at an 8th grade level. The fact that the failure rates are so high tell me that the parents and school have been failing these kids for years by not meeting their needs. And more than anything these kids need discipline. Fortunately, it is not expensive to demand excellent behavior from students, but it is exhausting.

    I love your blog, and also won’t be offended if my post is blocked. Jessie

    • Jessie, you’re saying something in slightly different words that I’ve been saying for decades. Parents should be teaching children the first three R’s before the kids ever get to school: Respect, Responsibility and appReciation. The failure of parents to do this means their children are not prepared to deal with the world. We can’t expect a class room of 10, 20 or 30 kids to learn the second three R’s (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic) if they don’t already have the first three R’s. Learning is built on a foundation and the parents are supposed to lay that foundation. Having had sex isn’t enough.

  5. Darren Allen says:

    Walter,
    I was a teacher in my previous life for 8 years. I taught behavior, yeah, behavior. Most of my student were labeled emotionally disturbed, and as it turns out, I was the one who turned out to be disturbed. You are absolutely correct in saying some kids are not ready because parents have not done their duty in teaching the first three R’s and the teachers have to teach them this which holds up the rest of the kids whos parents have done their duty and taught them these things. I see why people home school, but I could never do it to my kids. (it would not work). We are lowering the bar for kids instead of raising it.

  6. Jessie says:

    Hello again,
    I’m sorry that I misinterpreted your comment about “best and brightest” earlier. I am young and ignorant, but enthusiastic, and I worry that it comes off as preachy. I fully admit that I don’t know/understand a lot; in a few years (or months!) I will probably roll my eyes at my opinions today. But since I love your blog and feel like it is a safe place to have complicated conversations, and writing this down helps me to work out ideas for myself, I’m going to go ahead and spout off again.

    It is hard to know what to do for the students whose parents are not teaching them the first three Rs (for whatever reason). It is strange that in the information age there are so many people who choose to stumble through parenting without reading books and websites on different styles and philosophies. I’m not saying that all the answers can be found in a book, but I’m a better teacher for reading about different teaching philosophies, even the ones I don’t quite agree with.

    I suppose that this is an example of how technology will NOT save us (note how much respect I have for your lifestyle). No matter how many resources there are, each individual has to choose to take advantage of them. Learning, growing and dealing with life will always be difficult and it will always be tempting to ignore the challenge. Thank you to everyone who actively teaches their children each of the Rs, especially when it is hard.

    Cheers, Jessie

    • Jessie, I’m a strong believer in appropriate use of technology. Don’t miss-understand at all. Technology gives us the Internet which is the worlds largest library. It brings books and information to us out in the country that we could never get otherwise. This allows us to live our rural lifestyle while still having many of the advantages of in-town. And as you say, technology won’t save the world. People have to choose to use it well and for good. This has always been a big truth.

      Keep on challenging yourself, and others, to think on things and to study the thinking (e.g., writings) of others who’ve come before us. This is why we place a lot of emphasis on history, philosophy and classical literature in our homeschooling. Math and science teach us how to manipulate the world. Philosophy teaches us why. History teaches us how to avoid the mistakes of others and how to build upon the shoulders of those who came before us. Arts teach us how to do it with beauty.

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