Saturday, April 09, 2011

Making Do

Irony runs thick this spring, as our school district awaits the news from on high about how big the budget cuts will be. We had initially expected cuts of approximately three hundred dollars per student next year. Now we are told to anticipate that amount to be more like eight hundred dollars per student. The image of every student from kindergarten through high school forking over their lunch money plus interest for nine months seems a little obtuse at first. Maybe there is another way to look at it. The standard school year is one hundred and eighty days. if you divide that eight hundred dollars by the numbers of school days, you come up with something in the neighborhood of four dollars and fifty cents a day. You can buy a pretty good lunch off most fast food dollar menus for that, but you would still be a few cents short of a foot-long at Subway. Instead, let's put it in weekly terms: twenty-two dollars. What can you do with twenty-two dollars a week? There are a number of web sites that you can use to get advice about buying groceries for that amount each week. Of course, at our school we are feeding kids two times a day already, five times a week, and all the while we are filling our primary function as educators. Pencils, paper, white board markers, and some of those round-tipped scissors are the fuel that our students consume for that endeavor. Then you add in the salaries of a principal and some teachers. Suddenly that figure looks awfully daunting. Flip it around another way and multiply that eight hundred dollars by the three hundred kids in our school and the magnitude of this crisis becomes even more apparent. Two hundred and eighty thousand dollars for our school site means something has to go. Eliminating field trips, PE equipment, and those round-tipped scissors doesn't begin to fill that hole. You have to start cutting jobs. In spite of what you may have heard about the lavish salaries and benefits of teachers lately, we expect to lose four or five teachers and our assistant principal in this scenario. While the simple solution seems to be to put more kids in fewer classrooms and move on, maybe we can try one more math problem: A teacher with twenty students in their classroom has roughly five hours of instructional time each day with them. That gives each student an average of fifteen minutes each day. If we bounce the number of kids up to twenty-seven in each room, the per student instruction time drops to just below twelve minutes a day. That fifteen minutes a week doesn't seem like much, but at the end of the month it will be an hour, and over the course of a year it will be thirty-six hours of instruction lost. Think of the things a young mind could absorb in thirty-six hours. I don't think that the teachers at my school would allow that to happen. They would work harder and longer to fill in those gaps, stretching their time between the time the bell rings in the morning and when their kids slide out the door at the end of the day. Because that's what we do. We make do.

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