David Reynolds: Paradise lost

Column by David Reynolds
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Does anyone out there in paradise care about anybody besides themselves? If not, then we have lost a community. We have lost paradise.

Over 700 area residents attended the SRO public hearing held last week at the Rockbridge County High School to hear comments on the inevitable cuts the School Board and the Board of Supervisors must make for 2,600 students in their 2010-2011 budgets.

Little was said that helped either board. Speaker after self-serving speaker stood up for themselves. There was not a kid in the crowd. Please explain how cutting back to a four-day school week serves anyone? Yet that was one suggestion.

Here I thought that public education was an equal opportunity employer. Yes for those who are tall. But what about short people? Are we doing everything we can to bend over and help them?

That dark night we buried any pretext of equality. Why not? I got mine. You get yours. Let’s all fight for the old status quo of unequal resources, unequal facilities and unequal class sizes.

Maybe it is too much to ask for good students and good jobs to be part of paradise. Maybe we were wrong last week when we said that we are different, that we don’t always take stands based on where we sit.

The caravans rolled up Tornhill Road in order to tell others why the $10,454 expense per Effinger Elementary School child should continue. Forget about the kids at Central Elementary who receive $3,808 less. Naturally those numbers were not spoken. But that is what was said.

Am I missing something? Or is it all Richmond’s fault? Just give us someone else’s money so that we – not they – can spend it. In South Carolina or Arkansas they attempted to take care of their schools a little differently. South Carolina almost said no to federal stimulus money. The governor tried. He knew it was only a one year fix. But not Virginia. Richmond took the bribe and passed on $773,573 to Rockbridge County. Now this year we have a pothole to fill. With our money.

The governor of Arkansas (who later moved to DC) did it his way. He pushed through a 1% tax dedicated for public schools. The Richmond ostriches don’t understand why this works, that if a tax is solely for a popular program the people will vote it in.

And what do we vote in? “Keep Out” signs. We keep voting to keep the county’s tax base so small that we can continue to blame others for not supporting our local schools. We do this by having the perception of being antibusiness. Or when that doesn’t work we do the real thing. Telling the Boys Scouts that we don’t want their magnet for growth goes a long way toward telling our kids that we don’t care if they grow or not. And if you think we have learned anything from flunking our scouting merit badge, think again. Just follow our latest sign war to see if a Ford can surpass a Chevy. Woody Chevrolet, presumably the nation’s only auto dealership without a sign, will soon be history. That was not by choice. But then again, are we giving our children any choice but to leave the area to find good jobs?

Whatever happened to “change?” It is not only for electing presidents, it is for improving ourselves. As every educator knows, there is a link between a child’s performance in school and support at home. Three school systems are ready to prepare our children for the 21st century. But are the rest of us? A third of the county’s adult population do not have a high school diploma. Only another third have gone on to some form of higher education. Does that provide an adequate skill base to attack and keep business, or should we start listing plant closings on the obituary page?

Another point about the link between school and home. Without discipline there is no learning. Teachers can not do what is not done at home. However, our good teachers can do something else. They can and have left the profession. Do we have the discipline, drive and desire to retain our best teachers? It’s takes more than money.

We keep hearing that if you cut school funds you cut quality education. Yet there is no proof for this conventional wisdom. By combining Effinger and Central elementary schools and Rockbridge and Maury River middle schools, an estimated $1,476,997 can be saved annually – while maintaining average class size (between 17 and 20) and all specialized instruction, plus providing access to Math, Latin and Speech classes for incoming students! If you wish to get inside the numbers please contact a school board member or a school official. When discussing savings with them, keep in mind their charge: To do what is collectively best with available resources.

Sorry if I may have entered your comfort zone. However, I believe our kids are worth the intrusion. Kids are the key to growth and strong communities. We can’t accomplish either goal when we focus on ourselves. And not the kids.

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