"God must love the common man, He made so many of them..." Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Budget Blahs

It's hard to decide which one I'm looking forward to the least -- my next budget committee meeting or my next root canal. Which one can I get a Valium for?
In essence, our district gets a "paycheck" from the state to run our schools. The amount of the check depends on how many students are enrolled. 80% of this paycheck is tied up in employee wages and benefits. That leaves the remaining 20% to fight over. Over the last few years the paycheck has been good. But now... Due to declining enrollment, there is a monetary shortfall of about $900,000.
Fighting about money is always so unpleasant. I think those have been the worst "discussions" of our marriage. Just even thinking about it all makes me queasy. Now just imagine financial "discussions" in front of an audience full of opinions. Welcome to the school district budget meeting.
I didn't say much at the last meeting. Honestly, I wasn't prepared to say much. More honestly, I wasn't prepared. The budget book had arrived a couple of days before the meeting and I just didn't have the time to give it due diligence. Oh sure, I browsed through it but that doesn't count as preparation. And if ye are not prepared, ye shall not speak up. Especially when speaking up about limited financial resources.
How money should be spent can be a terribly hot topic. Two weeks ago there were raised voices, quick exits, logical demands, and emotion everywhere. I appreciate the passion, but in the end there just isn't enough money.
Monetary shortfall. Limited financial resources. Making ends meet. Pinching pennies. Wanting a fistful of dollars. So how are we gonna work this budget out for our students' best success? Shrug. I don't know. Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Keynote: Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor, bringing news from Lake Wobegon, was the final keynote speaker of the conference and he opened by speaking about the differences between school now and when he was a child. However, one thing has remained constant in the great state of Minnesota. "School never was and never will be cancelled due to the bad weather."
Keillor spoke fondly about his first-grade teacher. He was a struggling reader so she used to ask him to stay after school and read aloud to her because he "had a nice voice." He tried to read with ease, inflection, and confidence -- and was soon looking forward to his after school sessions. "To take a child who is having a hard time reading and make remedial reading seem like doing a favor -- that is a gift." "Nothing you can do for a child is wasted, and if just one teacher gains traction..." School should offer "a sense of success and blessedness" for all students, even if he or she looks like "they have just fallen face first into a tackle box."
Then or now, "the principles of public education are the same." Keillor acknowledged that many schools are struggling but education is a moral imperative, "perhaps the greatest moral obligation we have, and the most important investment a community can make." "Children are our most precious resource. If we lose faith in our children, if we do not give to them at least as good as was given to us, there's no future for this country."
Keillor spoke to the importance of local control of schools, even though state and federal politicians want that local control instead. When it comes to any difficult painful decision "that should be made by people who can explain them to parents face-to-face."
Poet James Wright was one of Keillor's professors at the University of Minnesota. "He made you believe you could do great things -- you could aspire beyond what anyone thought possible." To close his comments, Keillor quoted from one of Wright's poems, A Blessing. "Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body / I would break into blossom." "Blossoming," Keillor summed up, "is the business we are in."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Keynote: Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer, anchor of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, was the keynote speaker of the third general session. Lehrer stated "it all begins with education" and "I am who I am and I am what I am because of public school."
And Lehrer certainly had lots of experience in lots of public schools. When Lehrer was growing up, his father worked for Trailways Bus and the family was always on the move from one hub city to another. By the time he graduated from high school he had attended 18 different schools. When Lehrer was a sophomore, he realized his dream of becoming a professional baseball player was not going to pan out. So he began to wonder about being a sports writer in lieu of being a sports player. Coincidentally, it was then his teacher returned an essay with an A and comment written in the margin. "Jimmy, you are such a good writer." Lehrer stated he "was the product of a teacher's wisdom, of her giving me that grade and sharing that comment."
Throughout his nearly 50 years as a journalist, Lehrer has had the opportunity to interview many a political mover-and-shaker. But the most compelling person he has interviewed to date was a young teacher's assistant in Denver during the '88 presidential campaign. Lehrer described sitting on her porch in a rundown section of town. He asked her what she would like to see the new president do. She pointed at her old Dodge car in the driveway and said, "I want the president of the United States to help me tell the young people in school that it's okay that you work hard and do the right thing and you get a car like this." She then pointed at a drug dealer's new BMW parked just up the street and continued. "But if you do something dishonest and terrible, you get a car like that. You explain that to me and you explain that to the kids at school."
Journalism has also taught Lehrer "the value of education." He quoted Thomas Jefferson's remark "Democracy is dependent on an informed electorate." Lehrer then finished by saying "I truly salute you and your commitment to education and the education of the American public."