Diapers and Dragons

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We're Staring at the Headlights and There's No Hero Riding Into Sight


Okay. There's another reason I haven't wanted to write much prose lately.

It's called Stress. Over my everlovin' fund-cuttin' teacher-bashin' student-screwin' state legislature's decisions to cut education funding again and again and again. Halfway through the school year, as is the idiotic illogical normal way things are done around here.

My district, a large district, will lose an estimated $14.5 million as of December 20, 2009.

My building alone will lose almost $600,000.

This is not projected money, money that would be spent Down The Road that simply cannot be spent now. This is money that (because of the way things are done in this state) was already figured into the budget for the year before the state said Oh, sorry, did we say you could have that? Never mind.

This is money that pays for the programs that educate our youth, for the teachers and support staff who make the programs happen, and the facilities in which the programs are run. This is money that is spent to cover costs in a district that has already been paring away at spending and programs and jobs in an effort to absorb all the budget cuts made over the last several years.

So we are in Crisis. Crisis-mode decisions have been made, and the devastating results are already in play.

Last Thursday, after we wasted our time sat through a professional development presentation, four close English teacher friends of mine and I headed to a nearby Coney to eat lunch. I snapped a picture of them, these four young 20-somethings who have become my colleagues, my buddies, my mentees, my confidantes, and sent the picture to Joe via text labelled My peeps. He texted back Hi peeps! And then he and one of my peeps teased each other through me.

The next day three of them were told they will be laid off as of January 25th.

The fourth one is the next on the chopping block. Reality says she will not have a job next year.

The reason? One of the many cuts being made at the semester's end is the position of high school media center specialist (i.e. librarian.) Our libraries media centers used to have one full time MC specialist, one full-time MC paraprofessional, and one full-time MC secretary. And they were Busy. Over the last several years, the media centers first lost the secretaries, then dropped the para-pros to half-time, then lost the para-pros entirely. Our beloved MC specialist is quite possibly the hardest working and most overworked woman in the building, and she saves our asses on a regular basis. I put her on a pedestal along with our IT woman and the administrative secretaries.

Now all four high school MC specialists have lost their positions. Each school will have one para-pro working in the MC half the day.

This will work well.*

As a result, those MC specialists (all of whom were once teachers and are certified) are being moved back into the classroom. Even the one who only taught for a couple of years and hasn't been in a classroom for twenty-five. They have the seniority, they have the certification, so they will go into the classroom and the low people on the totem pole are gone.

Thus, my peeps.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want the specialists to lose their jobs either and I believe (knowing the kind of people they are) that they will work their butts off to do well as teachers. That's not the issue.

What is an issue, besides my friends losing their jobs, is that all these cuts (and there are more than these, believe you me) will Not Be Enough. More are coming our way--if not during this year, certainly within the next couple. Our in-school custodians are losing their jobs as the district switches to a cheaper (and much less effective) outsourced company. Some secretarial positions are being cut, others put to half-time. Bussing may have to be cut. Elective and Fine Arts programs may disappear. Sports programs may even be cut--freshman and junior varsity teams are already on the list of possibilities.

Class sizes will very likely rise (we're already at 35). The middle school program may be changed drastically, leaving about fifty teachers either laid off or transferred to high school, which means lay-offs there. Our contract is up for negotiation this summer, and I have every expectation that we will be forced to take dramatic salary cuts and benefit changes/losses. More people will lose jobs. MAYBE even some administrators (and believe me, that's a true sign of a crisis).

I understand, to a certain extent, why this is happening. Michigan is in crisis too. The state does not have money and is cutting all sorts of programs. Education is not alone. Police and fire departments are being drastically slashed. Other programs are being cut entirely or severely underfunded.

And I know that not just state employees are suffering. Almost all of Michigan is suffering. I know many people who have been laid off and cannot find jobs. Believe me, I'm grateful that I have one.

In fact, yesterday I found myself counting up the number of English teachers in the district who stand between me and a layoff. It may be human nature, but I recoiled at my cold-blooded approach to reality: how many bodies (so to speak) must fall before I do? And how bad would things be that I, who have approximately 14 people buffering me from unemployment, would be on the chopping block?

The reality is grim. It has been for some time, but now I'm catching a glimpse of the Reaper in my peripheral vision.

However, I have to wonder: at what long-term price are we making these short-term decisions? How will overcrowded classrooms, lack of bussing, lack of enrichment and Fine Arts and sports programs, and (yes, I'm going there) underpaid and overstressed teachers create an educational environment that will draw crucial people and funds to this state? What are we sacrificing for the present crisis that will contribute to the long-term one? The experts waffle on when we will start emerging from this recession, but I can say this: unless positive decisions are made rather than negative ones, that journey will be a very long one. And at this rate, I believe we may drop down into a full depression rather than the "milder" recession sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, I'm glad the legislators are able to sleep at night.* Apparently they're so relaxed about the oncoming train of the December budget cuts that today they declared a hiatus from sessions and decided to take a two-week vacation.

Unfortunately, they left a lot of people stranded on the tracks.

*In case you can't tell, this is being said with Deep Deep Sarcasm.

10 bits of love:

Heidi said...

Sometimes I wonder when we as a population will finally become so incensed at what takes place around us that we stand up, protest, and fight for it.

I can only think that most Americans are so gulled by the myth we've been sold about things being so much better here than they are anywhere else (especially in those Evil Socialized European Countries [tm]) that we don't realize how crappy it really is for us.

*hugs* It's entirely normal to count up the seniority ladder. After our round of layoffs in February, I rather methodically began taking on a little extra here and a little extra there so that I'm as invaluable as possible. Yes, of course I want to help...but part of it is also entirely about self-preservation. As badly as I felt for the people who went, I have a son for whom I need to provide too (and so do you!).

Not suggesting you intentionally take on extra, by the way - I know it's seniority-based for you. It's most definitely NOT for us :)

michelle said...

Going out on a limb as I might offend with my bleeding heart leftist liberal leanings. How is it possible that there is a never ending source to increase military spending, and an ever dwindling source for education and health care? I know state funds and federal funds are 2 different issues, but if federal funding was more liberal (so to speak) states in a pinch wouldn't have to slash and burn their education budgets. And I believe health care is a right, as is education. I know it's not spelled out on a piece of yellowed parchment, but come on! Be reasonable! Money for building up, not shooting down!

Where's my granola and birkenstocks?

Nicola said...

Totally agree with Heidi and Michelle. Education can be penalised in many countries...but in the country that is supposed to be the leader in the Western World this is totally unacceptable. On league tables the American education system is already polled way down the list compared to other, much poorer, countries. How much farther does it have to fall before it becomes more of a priority? I feel for the educators here - and most of all for this generation of children, who are being let down most of all.

Such a shit personal situation for you to be in as well. I have such a high regard for teaching. It truly is one of the most valuable 'vocations' there is. And I am so sorry that your ability to do your job is being impacted by the powers that be. Keep us all posted on how you are getting on. I'm thinking of you. x

Arby said...

This is not a liberal or a conservative issue. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s math. It’s economics. We all KNOW that we cannot live in deficit spending indefinitely. Live on credit for too long without paying the bills and eventually you will stop being given credit. The creditors will demand repayment. It is no different for a business or a government than it is for a family. State legislatures across the country are learning this lesson. You need look no farther west than California to see a fiscal disaster. This nation and all the fifty states have been living on credit for decades. It doesn’t matter what the spending is for – education, prisons, medicine, or military – borrowing too much will always come back to haunt the borrower. Clearing debt means spending less money. Spending less money means cutting spending. It hurts. It sucks. It is necessary. We do not want our states or our federal government to become insolvent.

Anonymous said...

Here's a suggestion, how about we cut spending on teaching birth control and free child care for junior high mothers. How about all the computers on every teacher's desk. Phones in all the classrooms? Somehow these weren't essential 20+ years ago.

Spending on education has increased dramatically over the last 30 years, and what do we have to show for it? How many of our students who "deserve" to go to college (it's a "right", after all), have to take remedial math and English classes? How many college grads need to be given remedial math and writing courses by the evil, horrible capatilist companies who give them jobs?

Stuff that happens like in Philly, where Principals are judged based on the number of students who are in the free lunch program are rediculous. They give free breakfast and lunch to all kids because, heaven forbid, the poor kids might feel bad because they have to take free lunch and be "marked" as poor. So we'll give free food to all the kids.

These are the social programs that liberals love and gnash their teeth about if they're cut. How about a little personal responsibility? Since when is it my responsibility to feed everybody's children?

Sorry, but I think getting back to basics and cutting some of the crap coming from our public schools might actually be a good thing. Unfortunaly, they won't cut the crap. They'll only cut more teachers.

mom said...

So sorry about all the stress, all the wondering, all the losses. It hurts to go through times like this. But it also can be a "refining fire" as some of the comments already posted seem to be hinting. Keep your chin up and keep doing your teaching thing with all the gusto you can dredge up, for the sake of the kids!

Dad said...

An African proverb goes, "When the elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled.”

It’s no fun being the grass.

Kathleen said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your peeps! That really sucks!!

And your class size is ALREADY up to 35?? Are you kidding? How can you possibly effectively teach that many at one time? It all has a snowball effect too. You give an English teacher than many students PER CLASS, you better believe, she won't assign as much work (ie: stuff to grade), which means the kids won't get as much practice, which means we'll have more and more illiterate kids graduating from our nation's high schools. Not saying any kid walks out of YOUR classroom illiterate. It's just that no one can handle that many kids on a daily basis and stay sane.

Feelin' for you!

Momzombie said...

My sympathies for where you are at. I went through it for years when I was in the newspaper business. Always checking the seniority list to see how "safe" I was, thinking my position was "essential" only to learn it was easily outsourced and that sinking feeling when yet another round of layoffs went through. It felt, at times, like clinging to the cold rail on the Titanic as it slowly slipped into the frigid sea.

Jessica said...

Excess spending always leads to excess debit and our entire country has been in a state of excess for far too long and now we are having to "pay the piper" so to speak. I hate that education is the one that is making the payments. I wish that our policy makers could find another way. I wish that you didn't have to worry if our job will be here tomorrow. I wish that I didn't have to worry if my children will have the benefit of a decent education.

However, since those are only wishes and I don't have a magical fairy in my pocket to make my wishes come true I have to make do. I think as a community we need to pitch in and help out the teachers and our schools when and how we can. That maybe petitioning our lawmakers to at least consider their decisions, volunteering to help in the classroom, or dropping of supplies.

There are those people that would say that we pay our taxes and that should be enough and yet veto any kind of tax increase. We need to stop playing the blame game and put on our big girl panties and deal with the hand we are being dealt. If we can't change our policy makers minds then we need to help where we can to make sure our children are getting the education they need.

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