Commentary: Clyde’s side

At the conclusion of the budget process, CCS Director Nostrand was at pains to make it clear that I should conduct myself as a team player. Her logic was routine: having just concluded a process during which all community members could have input, the board had labored long and hard to produce a fair and balanced result. For a board member to not support the result refutes the process and is disrespectful of the effort.

Director Nostrand’s comments DO reflect the THEORY of the intent of the design of the process: a popularly elected board—with control of and authority over their education system—having taken comments and deliberated on the validity of educational policy, presents a fair, balanced and educationally meaningful budget for consideration by the community.

In fact I DO refute the process as it exists.

What has evolved is an annual performance in which the latest crop of knee-jerk-supporter-of-the-institution helicopter parents, nestled in the warm, supportive bosom of a coterie of like-minded parents and massaged by the institution, produces a budget disconnected from financial reality, employing a baseline budget in which no one has confidence, containing things for which there is either no demonstrable need or there exist clear reasons to eliminate. Excessive administration. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Ever-increasing non-essential activities. In the end, propped up by using savings for operating expenses.

We cannot afford it. There is not enough money to support the current definition of education.

Having read this, the reader may be surprised at what comes next on the subject of voting: it may not matter how the reader votes. The vote this year, or possibly next, may well be the last time that Charlotters have ANY meaningful voice in education. Looming on the horizon—May 24—is the vote on a subject that will determine whether local people have ANY meaningful say in educating their children—or control of their finances because of:

Consolidation caveat: If two or more CSSU towns decline further consolidation (unlikely) most of what follows is irrelevant for the moment. Unfortunately we will not know the answer until May.

There is not space here for a full discussion. Because it bears strongly on a voting decision, a few comments.

We have arrived at a point where the unsupportable upward spiral of education costs is NOT, as the state contends, the fault of local control but just the opposite. The costs of education have spiraled out of control as the state has co-opted almost all control of educational policy and cost and handed decision-making to superintendents. The state is the playground of special interests—in the case of education this means, mostly, the NEA and the Superintendents Association—and organizations that have no desire to see their excesses limited by the people who pay the bills.

The state has no clue how to accomplish anything. Anyone in doubt about this need only observe the massive confusion resulting from the passage of Act 46.

The state, as usual, has created disaster by talking out of both sides of its mouth: “We’ll control costs but to do that we have to have more of your money.”

At the heart of the problem is that the state, like the education institution, has become addicted to spending money. Under the false promise that something can be done about the bell curve in specific subjects (i.e., math), the state, along with the institution, contends that if we just spend more money all will be well.

As an aside, the state, having realized that everyone knows that consolidation will not only not save money but will also cost much more, has phased into the argument that the goal is educational equity—not cost control. Consolidation will not control cost, eliminate the bell curve or provide equity. But that’s another letter.

This is all fascinating—and frustrating—stuff. Simple empirical observations provide the facts. How does it bear, I’m sure the reader wonders, on voting on THIS budget? By extension.

Act 46 is a severe transition from carrot to stick. At heart it reduces the decision on the matter of consolidation to the decision of one person—the Secretary of Education. Yes, the towns get to vote. Yes, the state Board of Education gets to approve or disapprove. However, in the end, the secretary has authority to make the call if she doesn’t like what a town decides.

Charlotters—with the knowledge that Charlotte is considered by the state as a “necessary” component of a merger of the CVU feeder towns—have good reason to fear a “done deal.” Charlotte’s best hope to provide quality, cost-controlled education is to opt out of a merger and opt into a structure (perhaps a K-8 academy?) which the secretary cannot contend does not provide good education and move forward with sound, cost-controlled educational decisions.

The “extension” mentioned is that a “no” vote means that the town is willing to go forward with the difficult—but far from impossible—task of agreeing on a new arrangement for its education system. Meaning: the town will have to demand a change of mindset—and probably membership—on the board.

It is a little confusing.

A “no” vote only has meaning if the town is willing to take the next, non-consolidated steps.

A “yes” vote means that the voter probably considers consolidation and the final, complete loss of any meaningful voice in education to be a fait accompli. There is not much point in worrying about a budget this year when budgets will, after a merger, be completely beyond public control.

I will vote “no.” The reader should give some thought to her/his long-term concept of education and vote accordingly.

Clyde Baldwin