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Kids' Needs or Government Greed?

We are in a new world order. COVID has changed the way the world works in more ways than we can count – many horrible, the occasional positive.

We have learned how critical under appreciated workers in our society actually are. Our nurses, doctors, and first responders are praised very publicly. Grocery store workers, supply shippers, and delivery drivers have new prominence and respect never before imagined. Then there are the teachers.

There is NOTHING to make you appreciate teachers quite like having to have your kids 24/7/365. Parents have had the joy of learning that their “perfect angel” children are not quite such perfect angels, and that the work our educators do is beyond undervalued in this society. Without question, the base salary for teachers should match that of lawyers, doctors, and politicians – if not exceed it, considering that teachers MAKE lawyers and doctors…politicians, I am convinced, are grown under rocks.

Why am I disparaging politicians today? Because they have it coming. Granted, not all politicians are bad, but here is why they have drawn my ire at the moment…

Every year here in the heart of the nation’s capital, there is a process that all public schools go through. The budget process. During this process, a collection of teachers, staff, administrators, parents, and community members (like me) get together and are told “Here is the pot of money the politicians and bureaucrats have decided is sufficient to create future leaders with…good luck.”

Suffice to say it is rare that the pot of money is adequate. In fact, every year that I have been involved with this process – more than 15 years and counting so far – has involved painful CUTS to the school budget. Every year we are instructed “You must think about the positions, not the people” – which is the school bureaucracy version of “It’s not personal, it’s business!”

Here is the problem with that stance – what is a school if not people? It is the people – from the custodians and lunch ladies to the teachers and aides to the counselors and social workers – that make a school what it is. I have yet to walk into a public school and thought to myself “Man, they are truly wasting money on…” anything. There is no fluff. What there is instead is teachers and staff who invest in their classrooms from their own pockets because the budget does not have supplies for them. There are parents who purchase supplemental materials to bridge gaps. There are organizations like my school’s PSCO that funds field trips so that kids whose families cannot pay for trips do not miss out. It is a community coming together to make sure our children have what they need through bake sales, clothing donations, and so much more – by any means necessary.

Tonight, I sat in the umpteenth budget meeting this year where we are being asked to trim a HALF MILLION DOLLARS from the critical positions our school needs. At a time when as a country we are trying to normalize and reinvigorate education post-pandemic, we are forced to weigh mental health services against classroom instruction; administrative support against janitorial services; after-school activities against special education services.

We are literally being asked to choose where to fail our children.

In the meantime, we are living in a city that went from being fiscally managed by a control board in the 1980’s to having a AAA bond rating on Wall Street today. Yet our schools are being told we can’t be fully funded? Where exactly is that money going?

My particular school is slated to move into a brand-new (long overdue) school building in the fall – a project that has a budget of $77.5 million. Yet, the Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) – who provides oversight and guidance to leadership on budget matters – has been asked to REDUCE positions and substance to our children’s programming.

I am outraged. And I hope you are as well.

Every school in this city should model what education should be for our nation. Every school in this city should be fully funded, based on what the local community and leadership tells the politicians and bureaucrats we need. If the city needs to make cuts to fund neighborhood programs, those cuts should start at the TOP in city hall, not at the bottom in school lunches.

We need to fund robust before and aftercare programs for children so parents can work and provide stable homes. We need to give teachers and staff substantive wages that still will not come close to matching all they do for our most precious citizens, but show we are trying. We need funding for comprehensive mental health and social-emotional services in EVERY school – not to mention skilled healthcare workers full time in EVERY school.

We need to BOOST resources to schools’ programs and operational foundations, not cut them right as we invest in their physical infrastructure.

I am calling upon DCPS to do the right thing for my local school and ALL schools across the city – end this ridiculous budget process of cuts and sacrifice. Fund our schools fully RIGHT NOW. Our children have suffered enough in the last year. Let us give them a future to look forward to.

Let our “new normal” be better than the old ways.


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