Art classes versus architectural heritage
To the Editor:
The choices we have to make as citizens – of our nation, our state, our town – can be heartbreakingly difficult. I was reminded of this, once again, when I read the report last week in these pages of the proceedings of the Old Rochester Regional School Committee. Chair Tina Rood used the word “dire” when referring to the impending budget shortfalls. She was not overstating the situation. In sum, without an additional contribution from the three towns totaling $382,000, she said, the junior high students would no longer have band and music classes, the high school would have only one full-time and one part-time art teacher, and the twice-a-week “late bus” that lets kids participate in after-school activities would be discontinued.
Now, I realize that in these kinds of budget negotiations it is customary for the school department to emphasize the most painful cuts, to try to engage the emotions of the taxpayers. I realize, too, that in the end creative ways are found to spread the pain around, so everyone hurts a little, everything pays a little price. However, the tactics of negotiation should not distract us from this critical fact: The education our children are receiving is not as good as it once was, not as good as it could be.
Recently, in Marion the Town House Building Committee proffered a plan to renovate that historic building so that it could continue to house the town administration. They are going to ask that it be on the warrant at the next Town Meeting. The cost of this option is in what I'll call the $8-10 million range. I have raised, in the past, objections that a less expensive alternative, construction of a new Town House on the recently-donated VFW property, has not been adequately considered. The THBC spent almost their entire grant on engineering and architectural studies to reach their conclusion; they spent almost nothing on design and evaluation of the “new construction” alternative. I don't know what the actual savings would be with that option, but I can't help thinking about it in relation to the problems faced by the School Committee.
I've said before that projects to preserve the past will take critical tax dollars away from the schools, the project that can preserve the future. That conflict has never been more obvious than now. The challenges we face are serious, but the challenges that our children will face are immense, unimaginable to us. Pervasive automation-driven unemployment, rising sea levels, climate change, global migrations – our kids are going to have to deal with all of that. We must make every effort to educate them, to equip them with the skills and knowledge which will help them save themselves – and us – from the problems they will have inherited.
What should we do? For one, I think we should put every penny we can spare into paying taxes to our towns, to our school districts. I encourage independent anonymous donations to the same cause. As a citizen, I want it all – a brilliant school system, a warm traditional village atmosphere in my town, an economically diverse community, a socially responsible local government – and I trust that my neighbors and fellow citizens, at least most of them, agree with me. Somehow we Americans have managed in the last decade or so to find a way to fit cable and wireless and internet into our household budgets. Can't we find a way to budget a little more for local government, for quality services and schools?
Right now we face these kind of bald-faced choices: music for eighth graders versus retaining a “village atmosphere,” after-school activities (theater, sports, service) versus the convenience of villagers walking to pay a tax bill, art classes versus our architectural heritage. Think about it.