Victims of the recession

If you can remember, this Great Recession, as they call it, began cascading in the seemingly remote sector of real estate lending, yet as far away as those places might seem in the headlines, these days Iíve witnessing the local impact as these shock waves finally hit home.

Iíve sat through enough board of education meetings to know there is certainly a hard reality to these hard financial times. A few lucky and disconnected people still doubt the whole economic situation as nothing more than politics.

There are these young men and women across the county who are nothing less than the victims of chronic government incompetence and unsustainable spending. Unsustainable Ė a word we hear a lot these days. Itís a way of saying that we need to lower our expectations of what we received from the system because the benefits weíve been reaping for a generation are no longer practical.

Things from education to road maintenance to just about any program needing a large part of state or federal funding have an unpredictable future.

Direct victims of the recession are these teachers being turned away from our schools in order to accommodate cuts in aid. This isnít the beginning note to a song debating the need to increase education spending; to the contrary I believe it has been over-funded, over-mandated and ill-spent.

New York for the last decade poured more money into schools than just about any state in our richest nation of the world. There are states at this very moment providing levels of education at nearly two-thirds of what we spend per student. Iím not sure of their quality compared to ours, but the point is that our system in general, not just education, needs to become more efficient and competitive.

I imagine the teachers being told this tale and then handed a pink slip. Being about my age or younger and set to truly begin their defining careers. Having attended a four year college program with all the jigsaw puzzle mandates required to complete such a degree in our modern era. Having to work through all the trials of student teaching, classroom training and who knows what in order to finally accomplish their ultimate goal: Standing alone in front of a group of children and teaching.

These people didnít create the problem they are now falling victim to. They didnít create the governmentís pattern of unsustainable spending, they didnít cause the greed of the banks, they donít have anything more to do with these larger-than-life developments than any one of us, but theyíre the ones required to make a sacrifice.

If you were one of the thousands of young teachers being axed in New York State this year, how would you feel? They are not the only ones affected of course, but itís a shame nonetheless. Itís a shame that strict union seniority can favor old, tenured and waning employees over the cheaper, enthusiastic and inspirational ones. Itís a shame that the buck stops on the tab of an individual whoís devoted their life to academics and child development. Itís a shame that today we are asking a rising generation to suddenly burden the brunt of failures accumulated by past ones.

Apart from the teachers, I dwell my thoughts on the students. I hear it a lot in these education meetings Ė superintendents and board members telling parents, students and staff that the cuts wonít affect performance.

Thatís a joke; of course they will. The programs not being cut are an anorexic version of the opportunities made available to my graduating class, from sports to college credit classes. Maybe our schools will figure out how to find success with less money; perhaps the crunch will force them to evolve. Even if they do, thereís still going to be a period of adjustment and at least a few classes will be joining a more hostile world less prepared than those before them.

The idea of education taking a step back is one that bothers many, for it seems like an objective that should always be moving forward.

With thunder cracking at the ceiling of the Unadilla Valley auditorium last Thursday, I sat through one of the districtís many budget workshops. If you havenít felt the atmosphere of a school board meeting lately, I invite you to attend one. Here administrators tell the crowds of how itís the worst theyíve ever seen or imagined. They hear how the school is moving forward on a set of ever-changing cogs put into varying places by unpredictable state cuts to aid and federal stimulus. Every adjustment costs more money and jobs.

Listen to the young voice of the teacher looking out of state for employment in the 2009-2010 school year. Hear the student who pleads the value of extracurricular activities and is basically told they arenít important enough to make the budget cut.

Many ask questions, many answers refer to factors that extend beyond the borders or control of the local district, like more proposed cuts to mid-year aid in the coming school calendar from Albany. So without the ability to change the system, districts must learn to cope with its short comings and the financial reality ... and soon so will parents, teachers and students.

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