As submitted to the Idaho State Journal, 05-22-2011
It was good for The ISJ to editorialize last week about the failure of supplemental levy efforts in Meridian and several other communities. Certainly these failures will present those districts with great challenges. As an example the editorial offered up the chance that some schools might not be able to afford to send teams to the state playoffs. In my opinion, with that example lies the problem.
Might I sarcastically say, “Oh, woe is me.” The fact that some schools might not be able to participate in a post-season athletic competition should pale in comparison with the fact that Meridian could consider laying off as many as 100 teachers, eliminating some “academic” programs, increasing class sizes, cutting back on supplies, textbooks, the list of effects is endless. Yet what garners the attention? Athletics and whether or not we will “go to State” Does no one understand what the prefix word “extra” in extracurricular really means? Does no one see the irony? Where are our priorities?
Here in Pocatello, our elementary students will do without the services of trained library specialist next year. Our middle schools will have only one counselor to serve the 800-900 students in each school. How well is that going to work? Programs have been eliminated. In a time when China has become our biggest business competitor and partner, we have eliminated the Chinese language classes offered at Highland High School. The district is behind the schedule on upgrading and replacing outdated textbooks. Given Mr. Luna’s brave new world of technology, we are woefully under-prepared and lack the finances to create the infrastructure that will be needed to implement his vision. Our own legislators have told us that we have to turn to the community. Fortunately, in Pocatello we have been blessed with voters who support the supplemental levies and understand the necessity. Still, we are facing these cuts in programs and positions while still playing a full schedule of sports and extracurricular activities, so I again ask, “where are our priorities?”
Lest one think that I discount the good things that extracurriculars do for our students be assured that I do not. My own children benefited from these programs, as did I when I was young. However, given the obvious fact that he State of Idaho, for the foreseeable future, is going to continue to underfund education, do we not need to engage in a public conversation about what we want or schools to do? A community wide public conversation not directed by either the educational establishment or any political party. A real conversation. And should that conversation begin sooner, rather than later?
We could start with a discussion of what public schools are supposed to do. In many of the countries who consistently outscore the U.S. in academic endeavors, sports and other extras are a function of the community as a whole, not the schools. The purpose of the schools remains academic in nature. Games, concerts, plays, competitions occur apart from the schools and are supported by those who wish to support those activities. Perhaps we could start there and ask ourselves how we might move forward in this time of shifting paradigms and politically inspired austerity.
Perhaps the Idaho State Journal, possibly with the assistance of the League of Women Voters or some other neutral party, could take the lead in creating this conversation through a series of public forums in which a cross-section of the stakeholders in our public schools participates. Possibly, there may be a better way to approach it. In any case, we are all stakeholders in our public schools and these decisions are too important to leave to a small cadre of people on Poleline rd. or to the tender ministrations of our State Superintendent and his legislature.
- To the Voters of Pocatello: Thank You, Thank You (billspeasoup.wordpress.com)
- Can High School Extracurriculars Get You Into College? (education.com)