Letters Cuts aren't answer
To the editor:
I would like to express my appreciation to the Vermillion School Board for supporting an opt-out referendum that will increase funding for our Vermillion schools.
Budget problems in recent years have forced the schools to let teachers and programs go. Children have been negatively affected by larger class sizes and the loss of programs that enriched their education.
Given that state support for education is pegged to enrollment, and given that enrollment in Vermillion has been dropping, we can't look to the state for help any time soon. We have to do what we can ourselves. In our current circumstances, an opt-out is the only thing we can do that protects the school programs and teacher positions we have left.
I'll admit that my priorities as a parent and educator don't always match what the schools decide to do. But even if I could be superintendent for a day and cut everything I think is extra, I wouldn't get close to balancing the school budget even for next year, never mind
for the next five years. We all want to see Vermillion's schools managed frugally and responsibly. However, the fact remains that unless dozens of new families with lots of children move to town, bringing state dollars with them, even the most frugal management won't prevent the continued erosion of the schools' strengths. More cuts just aren't the answer, even in the short term.
I hope the state Legislature finds a way to fund education more generously and equitably. In the meantime, I'm going to vote for the opt-out.
Raise your voice
To the editor:
I hope patrons of this school district read and discussed the powerful letter from Joyce Zimmer that appeared in this space last week. Perhaps you wonder why a leader in the education community would take the extraordinary step of questioning her employers in a public forum. I believe I can answer that.
The school board seems to have lost sight of its overall purpose. Think that's an overstatement? Consider first the following commitments made by the board to students, teachers, and parents:
* The mission statement of the Vermillion School District is "to empower all students to maximize their success in our global community."
* In the 2004-2005 negotiated agreement between the Vermillion School District and the Vermillion Education Association, one of the guidelines for staff reductions is "the superiority of academic areas over extracurricular activities."
* On the school board page linked from the school district Web site, you will find these statements: "Your school board looks out for children � first and foremost. School boards, elected or appointed by their communities, represent the community's beliefs and values.
"Your school board is the advocate for your community when decisions are made about your children's education. The school board represents the public's voice in public education, providing citizen governance for what the public schools need and what the community wants. Your school board is accessible to you and accountable for the performance of the schools in your district."
Now consider the actions taken or contemplated by the board:
* In an age in which "success in our global community" increasingly depends on the ability to access and evaluate information using technology, this district is cutting computer teachers and librarians.
* This school system has eliminated course offerings and increased class sizes while maintaining an expansive extracurricular program. (My dictionary defines extracurricular as "not coming within the course of study.")
* Community members wishing to address the school board or ask questions at a school board meeting are hampered by procedural hurdles.
* Repeated requests from a variety of sources to make reductions in administration (and other areas) before making further cuts in staff who work directly with students have been refused or dismissed.
The contract between the school district and the teachers contains a provision which allows the Vermillion Education Association, representing the teachers, to submit alternatives to any school board proposed list of staff cuts. As a former VEA president and negotiator I, like Joyce, have participated more times than I wish in formulating these alternatives and presenting them to the school board and superintendent.
The VEA attempts to recommend budget reductions that can be accomplished with as little impact on students' education as possible. I have yet to see any of our suggestions implemented.
Small wonder, then, that when our voices are ignored, we ask you to raise yours. I ask you to perform three crucial tasks. Most importantly, vote yes on the opt-out on March 15.
Second, contact your school board members (as soon as is practical) and tell them in no uncertain terms what your "beliefs and values" are. I think they have misunderstood and underestimated them.
Finally, contact your legislators in Pierre and enlist their aid in fixing the systemic problems with the school aid formula. Specifically, ask them to support the bill which sets the increase in state aid to schools at 3 percent. It won't fix all of our funding problems, but it will be a beginning.