Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spring Break

Lent is, strangely, one of my favorite times of year. Sure, as far as the Episcopal Church year goes, it’s a downer. Somber reflection, self-denial, and cold, miserable weather are typically associated with it, and we all just want to get to the chocolate-bunny-strewn finish line.

Years ago, the priest at my church, Father Sam, changed my perception of Lent with two key endorsements. One was during a sermon (see—I can pay attention to those) in which he remarked that, instead of “giving up something” for Lent, perhaps “taking something on” was a good idea. Try something new. Think about the world in a different way. This was a relief—my husband and I had embraced the "Catholic-lite" Episcopal Church a few years earlier after childhoods spent in more casual Protestantism, but I was clear from the get-go that, if giving up chocolate or filet mignon for weeks at a time every year was an expectation for me...sorry, padrethat's a dealbreaker.

During that same Lenten season, when many churchgoers were focused on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as the Lenten film of choice, I overheard Father Sam extol the virtues of a smaller film I loved but had not previously thought of as a "Lenten film" per se: Chocolat. That movie, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, views the Lenten season from a different angle.

Set in 1950s France, Juliette Binoche plays a mother (importantly, an unmarried and not Catholic mother) with ninja-like chocolate skills living in a quaint, very Catholic town where the religious, social, and governmental structures are orchestrated by a severe and judgmental nobleman. When the cumulative effects of that nobleman's narrow worldview wreak havoc on the townspeople's lives, the young priest in town has had enough. Père Henri’s Easter sermon begins,

I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance. Listen, here's what I think: I think that we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and whom we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and whom we include.

This statement has become, to me, the best explanation of what we are supposed to be about as human beings, and as such, it is key in my philosophy about education.

“I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and whom we include.” If I have had an overarching thesis statement for my work with students at school, at home, in my church, or on the streets for all of these years, that’s it. Lent is my annual reminder of this mission statement. I am much more consistent in following this advice with children versus with adults (and I’m fine with thatI'll worry about the adults later), and thinking about those words actually does give me strength in tough times and courage in speaking up for children and their rights.

Thus, every Lent, I take something on (usually reading something in a particular genre or by authors that I have previously excluded from my repertoire), and I watch Chocolat.

The books themselves have involved everything from a Johnny Cash biography to books by the Dalai Lama to the poetry of Seamus Heaney to the quiet reflection of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. This year, I’ve decided that I have neglected some pieces of young adult literature for far too long. That’s what I’m taking on. Here’s my stack:

Wish me luck in tackling it all by April.

For the past two weeks, this blog has had an incredible amount of traffic, and my posts on the county education budget have spurred some debate, a great deal of goodwill, and a little nastiness, too. I’m hoping that, going forward, in the spirit of Chocolat (or whatever you believe in), everyone reading this piece thinks about something in a new way, considers a perspective one has not considered before, reconsiders a vote one thought one was sure about, rethinks being silent about something that needs a voice and demands to be heard.

Take something on.

Some people view Lent as a time to circle the philosophical wagons, to reinforce what they already believe with some degree of relative certainty. For me, Lent is different. Lent compel me to force myself to examine new perspectives. Considering a different viewpoint in whatever form does not detract from the strength of my belief in what is important to me. On the contrary, examining something new keeps me strong and willing to stick my neck out for my beliefs because I am constantly testing them for myself. 

It’s cold outside, and I’m tired and eating a lot of carbs. I just want to “couch it out” and hang out under a blanket. But I can’t. I have to take something on. Think about the world differently. Keep rolling with the new. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Budgetary Briar Patch, Part 3: Born to Fund

When I began drafting the first two pieces on the county education budget, I knew that I was going to upset some folks, and the Angry Ones certainly earned that nickname this past week. I anticipated their venom. I care deeply about this issue, and I am not going away. Part 3 concerns something that even the Angry Ones might support: increased transparency for all elements of the county budget.

[PS If you all fully fund the education budget, I promise to shut up about it. I’d rather write about Valentine’s Day anyway. Deal?]

For years, I have seen the school budget publicly dissected according to citizens’ differing views on what a good education is and how much money they think schools deserve. People explain at length at public meetings, in e-mails to school personnel, and in local newspaper comment threads exactly how deeply they believe teacher and administrator paychecks should be cut, which curriculum programs they do and do not think are worthy of funding, and how their own school experience informs their ideas. Because all adults typically have darkened the door of a school building, they feel qualified to tell schools what to teach, how to teach it, how to assess it, and how to fund it all. You know what? I'm pretty much fine with that.

Schools feel familiar. The fact that school officials and employees are their neighbors and are just garden-variety government workers leads citizens to feel comfortable to ask schools a lot of questions. Citizens do not have as much information concerning how much of the school budget is guided by the law as I want them to (especially regarding unfunded federal mandates), but school funding is a large part of the overall county budget, so I understand the scrutiny even when I disagree with specifics of it.

This is public money. Go ahead: financially fine-tooth comb the schools into the ground. I won’t fight you on that.  It’s your right.

Our school system’s budget process is straightforward, and the cuts of the last several years have motivated school leadership to be increasingly clear each year in spelling out exactly what additional cuts will mean for students. Each of the county budget pieces that involve high-profile public entities—the school system, the health department, the public library, and law enforcement—has a high degree of visibility during budget time, and the public excoriation is acute when these entities’ budgets come under fire. These services are crucial in society, so this attention is all good and appropriate.

Other parts of the county budget do not see the level of dissection that those services generate. Even during our most desperate budget times several years back, the public did not question much about the county offices’ operating budget or general items like the fund balance (except for some shouts of "Tax cuts!"). Perhaps because elected officials seem less familiar or less approachable (maybe more intimidating?) than their schools do, citizens do not publicly nickel-and-dime county budgets as much as school budgets.

This post is a request that the same type of very public scrutiny that the public schools have been subjected to be extended to those other county budget expenditures as well. Fair is fair, and I would feel much better about the folks who are quick to cut the school budget if they experienced the same level of citizen micro-management that schools do and were compelled to provide the same justifications for everything that schools are. In that vein, I’m here to help.

I do not necessarily think that our county government officials are doing anything wrong with our money. I just want some explanations in the same way that parents want explanations about how the school system spends money on their children. A couple of items in the county government budget bug me, not because I think the county government is intentionally misleading anyone but because I want to know their rationale.

Figure 1 shows our county fund balance history over the last several budget cycles. (The fund balance is the money that our county has remaining after they decide what money is coming in and what money is going out.) The fund balance cycled up and down over those 4 years within a $10 million window. Initially, only $1.8 million of that money was held back as “non-spendable.” (Non-spendable items are monies held in reserve because of legal or contractual reasons, and they also include funding for revenue shortfalls such as a customary advance for the landfill.) Note that the numbers for FY2014 show that we now hold as much as $11 million as “non-spendable,” which is quite a jump from $1.8 million.

The non-spendable category has grown recently because of an accounting procedure change where county spending on motor vehicles and information technology has been moved from individual department budgets into that fund (Figure 2). Here are my questions about that.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Question 1: 

If the money for motor vehicles and information technology has been moved to the “non-spendable” budget and totals approximately $5.5 million, does that mean that department budgets were cut by a total of $5.5 million that year? Where can I see that change reflected in specific department budgets of the past (in other words, department numbers before and after the accounting shift)?

The reason this question is on my mind is because the total non-spendable allotment in FY2014 was $5.5 million, an amount that would have saved the school budget. I would like to know the rationale for taking those monies out of department funds and setting them aside in this way. Is it just a “cleaner” accounting practice? Was there an anticipated emergency in these areas? Whatever the reason, $5.5 million is a great deal of money for our small county, and it was allocated to a projected concern over vehicles and computers versus the very real concerns that year in the decimated school budget. Why was this decision handled the way it was?

Question 2: 

About that $5.5 million, I may not be the only one who thinks that $5.5 million for motor vehicles and information technology in one year seems like a hefty bill (especially, again, since that money could have saved the school budget). Do we have figures that justify that estimate? What was happening with the county vehicles and computers that they required squirrelling away that level of financial support apart from other monies that are in play as “spendable”?

Did any of the following factors play a role?
  • The school system has had to scour junkyards for years for parts to repair their vehicles because they cannot afford the maintenance of them. 
         Does the county government have that problem?
  • The school system has had to extend the replacement of old computers out by years after replacements should have happened, leaving children and adults in schools with computers that are not only outdated and have trouble running the programs they need but are also difficult to service. 
         Does the county government have that problem?
  • The school system is beholden to unfunded federal mandates that drive their computer technology requirements (like the requirements for every school building as part of the new PARCC assessments). 
         Does the county government have that problem?

Boy, if the answers to those questions are “Yes,” then I certainly understand that money being put aside because the county government vehicle and computer needs are definitely more important than those needs for students—oh, wait. No, those county needs are not more important than student needs. Please explain this situation to me. I want to understand it.

Question 3: 

This whole fund balance concept is a fine idea:
  • “We need a Rainy Day fund because bad things sometimes happen.” True.
  • “We predict that we may need money set aside for some really important items, and we want to be responsible in designating that early.” Well done.

The fund balance itself can even be a bit tantalizing—it is, after all, what the county government has been raiding for the past few years for tax cuts instead of fully funding the public school system. Let’s face it—you can’t spell “fund balance” without F-U-N.

My last question is this: What does it take to get a piece of the fund balance action? Will there be a point at which school system emergencies rate the level of importance that county vehicles and computers do? That tax cuts do? What do the schools need to do to prove their worth? 
  • Do school buildings need to continue to steadily fall apart one by one? 
  • Do schools have to eliminate sports programs because they literally can't field events on existing turf? 
  • Exactly what will it take?

The school system has demonstrated a years-long determination to streamline its processes, eliminate wasteful spending, and find new areas to reduce spending (see slide 44 of the above linked school budget presentation). This stewardship on the part of the school system and the oversight on the part of the general public are right and good. I don’t see that dynamic with the county government’s money, even in small (but symbolic) ways.  

For example, I remember a town hall budget forum at the county government building a few years ago. A colleague of mine (and a public school parent) spoke and pointed out to the county council that if he, as a school administrator, had as many lights on in as many empty rooms all over his school building as the county council did that evening, he would have been in big trouble with his bosses. He emphasized that the school system was on top of every small waste, every tiny expense. Every light, every piece of paper, every order of sand and salt to make school parking lots safe after a winter storm—they’re all on the public firing line for schools every single year. Our elected officials and their employees should also have to demonstrate that they, too, are spending money responsibly in every single way, every single year

I don’t like people micro-managing my day, but that is part of being a public employee. That responsibility extends not just to the schools, libraries, police, and health departments. It extends to the people whom we elected to run the county government offices. The schools’ books are clean--

verifiably [Scroll down to "Maryland."], 
certifiably [Search "Cecil County Public Schools."], 
undeniably [Scroll down to "Cecil County" under "Maryland."], 
squeaky [Do you know the search terms by now?] 

Now it’s your turn, county: show me the money.

Wait a minute--is my math wrong? Am I asking questions where I don't fully understand the issues involved or the urgency of your money problems? Am I attacking you when you have only tried to do a good job? Well, join the club. It's my right to ask these questions, and now I am. 

Perhaps the honest answer to all of my questions is, “Yes, Miss Smarty Pants, we’re doing responsible things, and here are the data to support us.” Great. Cough it up. Let’s unite as citizens to apply the same scrutiny to all of the finances and see if they rise to the transparency and very real need that the school budget shows. I want the intentional, irresponsible financial hurt put on the schools for the past seven years to end, but if it does not, then it’s time to put the hurt on the entire process.  

Fair is fair.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Budgetary Briar Patch, Part 2: The Process v. the People

I love government and the political process. I always have. (Here’s a past post that examines my love of country; it also explains why I fret so much about America’s schoolchildren and who I think our enemies really are.) The intent of this piece is not to shred the political people whom I criticize. It is a call for action on important matters where I live and work. In my community, political perspectives like mine tend to be drowned out by an increasingly single-minded madding crowd, and I have had enough.

For a girl known for her ceaseless perkiness, I sure am down-hearted these days. In education, the problem is rarely ever really the kids—it’s always the adults who are the root problem, always the adults. I feel powerless and hopeless because I am dealing with fellow citizens with likely good intentions who are doing awful things that harm kids and, therefore, the future of my community.

It’s budget time around these parts. Budget time in our county for the past decade or so has been a melodrama of hooliganism and an often logic-free (and certainly long-term-free) approach to municipal finance. I live in a politically conservative part of a politically liberal state, so budget time reinforces the dichotomies in my world and how they rarely work together.

My county, like many others, has a vocal band of libertarian-ish/conservative-esque/really-just-angry-to-be-angry folks who now dominate our political discourse. They are not numerous, but they are loud. They register to vote as "Republicans," but they are not Republicans according to the classic definition. Republicans are people who want less government in people’s lives but support the role that government needs to play in key services such as defense and public education. For the record, I respect true Republicans and share DNA and laughs with many of them. Instead, the Angry Ones accept no civic responsibilities at all. (A popular label exists for their political mindset, but I refuse to use it because it besmirches the good name of my morning cup of Earl Grey.)

These Angry Ones have polarized local political discussions to the extent that any candidate in any election with a “D” next to his or her name in the voting booth now loses to any candidate with an “R” next to his or her name. I am not exaggerating. This last election saw the loss of our remaining Democrats not because they were doing a bad job (in fact, they were generally touted by people not connected to the Angry Ones —including real Republicans—as having done a great job). Rather, they lost because of the “D.” Angry Ones are not true Republicans, but their relentless howling has convinced much of our electorate that they are.

Perhaps this trend began with the ouster several years ago of Wayne Gilchrest, our exceedingly moderate, thoughtful, and reasonable Republican Congressional representative (I miss him so much). Job competence, money, incumbency, and actual issues play little role in our elections these days. I don’t think even a good old-fashioned sex scandal would shake things up (is this even AMERICA anymore?).  It’s all about the “R” and the “D,” and this electoral myopia is damaging our community.

The Angry Ones want one thing: they want their money back. They do not want to pay taxes, and they do not think that they have any responsibility to pay for public services. They speak (in very small numbers) at local town hall forums and accuse such societal troublemakers as the schools, the libraries, and the park service of ruining their lives.

At these same forums, in exponentially larger numbers, are the parents, teachers, administrators, librarians, business owners, park rangers, students, and retired citizens asking that our county fully fund their public services (something that, by the way, our county can afford to do if it does not give the Angry Ones their tax cuts). Mystifyingly, despite their small numbers at budget events, the Angry Ones always prevail in the budget game.

In fact, at the most recent forum (theoretically devised for the citizens to share our thoughts on budget priorities), we were first subjected to 30+ PowerPoint slides that let us all know that the budget was, in effect, a done deal. As with so many meetings, a forum was held merely so that the county can later say that it had “involved stakeholders” and “solicited feedback.” Sadly, “involving” and “soliciting” rarely mean listening.

With these Angry Ones to the left of me and sad county history on the right, I still hoped that, last year, things would improve. After six years of vicious cuts to the school budget resulting in more than 180 jobs lost (and a further decline in our old school buildings and vehicles), we had a new county executive, one who ran for office as a more moderate voice and a supporter of education.

The budget goes to the county executive first and then to the county council. Any cuts that the county executive makes to that budget are not going to be reversed by the county council; in fact, the county council will likely feel the need to cut further…to publicly pledge allegiance to the Angry Ones.

The school budget is built on public feedback, vetted in public forums, and cut to the bone before it is submitted to the county executive because everything schools request is now considered an extravagance, from HVAC repairs to special education services to school safety equipment.  Many school folks were shocked when the county executive that many of us championed was the first to cut the school budget even though we could afford to fully fund it.

Entering this year’s budget cycle, I don’t know what to think. We have a new governor in our state, and he is already trying to cut the state education budget (click here to tell him to knock it off). Because of the governor’s cuts, our school system was required to find another $1.7 million to cut before the county executive gets the budget and potentially cuts it again. At press time, our school board bravely voted last night to refuse to make these cuts and is insisting that the county do right by our kids. I am more proud of them than I can say. (By the way, the school board is one elected body here whose candidates do not have to designate themselves as “D” or “R” on the ballot. The members differ in philosophy and approach, but there is not an Angry One among them.)

I voted for our Republican county executive. I believed in her. I want to believe in her again. (She’s the parent of one of my former students, and she’s a truly excellent parent and a lovely person.) But she was wrong last year when she made cuts for no clear reason other than muscle-flexing on the Angry Ones’ behalf. That approach obviously runs counter to the best interests of kids, our most important but least politically powerful citizens.

It takes a particular kind of political courage to do right by citizens like children who are able to do the least to enlist a public official’s support. They can’t vote, and they can’t donate money to a campaign. Supporting them means turning away from the demands of a louder, better financed, and more ruthless constituency who, in the case of the Angry Ones, want what they want out of the self-obsession that comes with a narrow, short-term worldview. I believe that our county executive is the kind of person who can learn from last year’s budget mistakes and who has the political courage to support the future of her most fragile citizens. I need to believe this.

At this point, our county government is not even following their own strategic plan (click here and start on page 6), which adds an unnerving sense of whimsy to the decision-making process. Additionally, in the time that schools have cut 180 jobs (because the county government insisted that those cuts occur or a financial apocalypse would ensue), that same county government has added some 30 positions to its roster. What’s going on here? Here’s what keeps me up at night.
  • I guess this would make sense if our county genuinely could not afford to fully fund its public services, if we were in the financial situation we were in back in 2009 or 2010. But that is not the case.
  • I guess it would make sense if the majority of people at those town halls were screaming for tax cuts and thus cuts to schools. But that is not the case.
  •  I guess it would make sense if real Republicans were supporting these cuts, but education has some true friends on the local Republican Central Committee, and my Republican friends roll their eyes at the Angry Ones as much as I do.  So that is not the case.
  •  I guess it would make sense if I thought that the elected county officials leading us were still the vicious dingbats of the recent past (dingbats first championed by the Angry Ones). But that is not the case.
None of this makes sense. The most nonsensical part of this equation? These same Angry Ones who irresponsibly want their services but do not want to pay for them have the nerve to label themselves “fiscal conservatives,” and no one calls them on it.

     The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Angry Ones hold such financial and political sway with our “R” elected officials that all public spending is considered bad, and all cuts to it are considered good. If this mentality actually served their rage-fueled self-interest, tax cuts would make sense. But that is not the case.
  •  Quality public schools play a significant role in whether companies want to locate here and in our real estate market, too (and thus the tax base). Good schools are in their self-interest.
  •  Quality public schools play a huge role in whether this county ever makes a dent in its increasing drug problem and the crime that comes with it. Good schools are in their self-interest.
  •  Quality public schools require MONEY. There is no getting around that, America, and good schools are in your self-interest.

People who want more money and more property value and more personal safety should clamor for funding for public schools, but they don’t.

Like I said, the problems in public education are almost solely rooted in the adults involved, not the students. Help me to believe in you, county officials. I waited during all of your party's political tomfoolery and let you play out your years-long internal reindeer games (if your memory is short, click here). Now, the scariest among you are out of office. This is your chance.

Do right by this community. It’s your duty to turn away from the pressure exerted by the Angry Ones and fully fund public education, and you can. In fact, you must.

In fact, on behalf of the children of this community (the future voters, businesspeople, and public servants—the future adults who will someday determine your elder care and your entitlement programs and your great-grandchildren’s education—people you presumably will hope have a greater sense of civic duty than the Angry Ones do), I insist. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Budgetary Briar Patch, Part 1: Pay Up

After months off, I am back on the blog because of one thing: I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. The county budget is the issue of the day, and I have something to say about it. Here is the first part of my series, Budgetary Briar Patch. I hope that you enjoy it and that maybe it infuriates you at least a little bit. Welcome back to Schooled!

Martyrdom makes me gag. Unless someone has actually died for a cause (Martin Luther King, Jr., Benazir Bhutto, people like that), then I do not want to hear about what a selfless, noble soul he or she is. All people do the best that they can, and we are all humans capable of great actions and not-so-great actions.

This is the primary reason why I roll my eyes at many of the martyring articles about teachers that travel the Internet (“Here’s why you should pity us! Salaries! Bad parents! Bad kids! Waaaaah!”). These articles portray teachers as weak, pathetic souls giving up their sanity and worldly goods for The Children. I’m a good teacher, and I’m not like that (I’m still fairly sane most days, and I have some nice worldly goods).

The teachers I know are not like that either. They are as prone to whining and self-centeredness and goodness and selflessness as anyone else. And teachers are not weak. We are many things, but we are not weak, despite the level of cuteness we display in our classrooms on any given day.

So I hesitate to write this piece. I am going to write it, though, because it makes a point that needs to be made: The general public has little clue about what educating students actually costs, and it’s time to pay up.

Like most teachers, I spend a great deal of my own money on my classroom and on my students each year. The total varies from year to year, but it amounts to, in my case (by my husband’s conservative tallies), at least $2,000 a year. Please do not praise me for this. I spend that money for survival and so that I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did the best job that I could when many of my students come from very impoverished circumstances.

Granted, some of that money is spent on my own version of obsessive-compulsive disorder. For example, my school could give me some of the Post-It Notes that I have students use for annotating text, but it could not give me the volume of them that I need nor could it handle the color-coding of them that rules my life. In addition, while the school might be able to give me one file folder for each student in the traditional beige, it cannot (and perhaps should not) provide me with the four-color system I have for each student, one for each strand of the English Common Core State Standards (reading, writing, listening/speaking, and language). I am part of the problem. I get it.

I spend money on hand-held whiteboards for kids, dry erase markers, large dry erase boards, bookshelves, student paper and pencils, laminating, chalk, more Kleenex (the good kind) than the average ICU unit uses in a year, chart paper, CDs, DVDs, VCRs, extension cords for everything, snacks for student breaks during state testing, and classroom décor as far as the eye can see. It’s all good. I’m happy to provide all of this for my students. I want them to have a positive, efficient, and welcoming environment, and I want that for myself, too.

If many of those items above could be considered “extras” (and we could debate that), know that much of what I spend money on are things that school should be able to provide. For example, during my first year of teaching, our building ran out of money for paper, and I had to spend my own money for paper on which to copy our county-mandated final exams (true story—you should have seen my husband’s face). In addition, because the schools in which I have taught usually do not have money for new books, I have bought more than a dozen class sets (a class set is 30-35 paperback copies) of various novels over the years for use in my room or in my building. Nearly every video clip I have ever shown in class? My money. Most office supplies or storage supplies in my classroom for the past 15 years? My money. Software, hardware, virus protection, TVs, and any other ancillary technology purchase that I am allowed to bring into a school building? My money.

I do not want pity or reimbursement, and God knows—in this climate—I am not asking for a raise. I am not even asking for a larger version of the laughable “tax break” I get for these expenditures. I don’t want you (the American taxpayer) to fund me. I want you to fund my job, the one you hired me to do. In other words, I want you to fund the children of your community when they are at school. I want you to pay up.  

You see, some (very few, but some) teachers will say, “Don’t spend your money on school. I used to do that, and you just can’t.” They make the sound argument that doing so lets the American public off the hook. By spending my money on the materials that the education budget should fund, I am making the schools appear to be functioning better than they actually are on the public funds we receive. My classroom is a clean and cute place to be, and much of that is not on your dime. I should let the room look like the money you are willing to spend on it. I should, but I can’t. The same concern for kids and professionalism that compels me to take up your slack is the same concern for kids and professionalism that is now telling you to pay up.

Right now, the schools in my county are in a dire situation. Unnecessary county government budget hijinks over the past decade have caused us to be in what is potentially the 8th year of massive cuts to the school budget. Our new governor is now part of the problem with state funds, too. Capital projects for dilapidated school buildings, repair of vehicles and technology—you name it—have been pushed off for years, with each year bringing more deterioration and, of course, ever increasing costs to fix any of it. Our school system leadership has been a model of sucking it up, dealing with the cuts, looking for new ways to cut costs every year, of being responsible stewards of public funds in a way that our county government has not been—shamefully, has not been at all.

The people who annually cry for “less government spending” and “less government waste” are flushing their public properties down the toilet and calling themselves “fiscal conservatives.” My voice alone may not be able to stop them, but I am calling them on this ridiculous (and cumulative) lack of civic responsibility as loudly and in as many forums as I can.

Pay up, America. This is your responsibility. These are your children and grandchildren and community members. You have been an irresponsible, slacking, bad citizen for long enough. Man up, and pay up.

At a recent county town hall budget forum, my husband and I laughed together at the father of two of my former students when he indicated that those of us advocating for public services like education would not spend our own money on those services ourselves. We chuckled (and my husband desperately wants me to send the guy an itemized list of everything we spent to educate two of his kids), but we laughed that nervous “Oh God, citizens really can be morons sometimes, can’t they?” laugh (the same laugh we all share when someone hands Sarah Palin the mic). That guy honestly had no clue. I am writing this piece to give folks a clue. So that you will pay up.

We have a great guy in our school system who has debated the teacher expenditure issue with me. He’s hardworking and hilarious, and I respect him a great deal. Years ago, teachers could buy our own laptops and use them in school (and I did that), but now that is prohibited because of various concerns about wifi and such but also because, as this kind and fiscally responsible guy says, “Sharon, we should be providing you with what you need at work. We are your employer. That’s our responsibility.”

He’s right. The system should be providing me with what I need. But the system can’t because the state and county governments we count on to make sure funding happens appropriately continually drop the ball. He’s right to want those elected officials to understand that things like my aged, self-immolating county laptop are their responsibility. He’s right, and he still believes you might come through. But I don’t live in that world. I want to live in that world. Please, may I live in that world? Pay up.

I will keep spending money on school regardless of what you do. But I am not going to be silent about these money matters anymore, and I am going to insist that you meet your governmental and ethical obligations to our kids. The stakes are too high, and the citizenry (both my own locally and our collective nationally) have been irresponsible for too long. Like I said, teachers are not weak.  I am not weak. And I’m coming for you. 

If I were you, I’d pay up.

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