PN-GISD savings report troubling

Published 9:16 am Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I am glad the Port Neches-Groves school board expressed concern over a recent report that suggests the school district can save $2 million by cutting jobs through attrition.
While I understand the district needs to show itself fiscally responsible to the community and in so doing illustrate that substantial savings could only come through job cuts, this sort of talk is concerning nevertheless.
Until recently, I was living in Mississippi and more specifically the Mississippi Delta, that thin, lowland north of Vicksburg and just south of Memphis.
The farming is, as ever, great. The music’s still fantastic and I understand Mississippi tamales to be among the best.
The same cannot be said for the schools.
Across the Delta, schools are largely failing. As manufacturing left the region for foreign shores and as large farm operations needed fewer workers, the middle classes there left or passed on, killing the region’s local tax base.
Mississippi, of course, is a state perpetually strapped for cash and the cash they do have doesn’t go far to meet classroom needs.
So, with little choice, districts in the Delta have cut their budgets and their staffs deeper and deeper and raised local taxes in some places to their legal limits, all the while test scores floundered.
Our local public schools are the bedrock of our communities.
Schools educate our children but also serve as meeting places, recreation centers and as places of employment, and so when this bedrock erodes then any community is also diminished. If there is any doubt about this, I can show you around the classrooms of Clarksdale, Mississippi and convince you.
I don’t know of too many politicians who would go on record attacking public schools, but there is a popular myth out there education is some kind of wasteful expense, that music programs don’t matter and art is frivolous.
Heck, according to the PN-G report, that district could save $300,000 if it only got rid of five librarians and, with Google and the Internet, who needs librarians? Isn’t STEM the only thing that matters these days?
It is not; at least not to seven local students who, last week at the Education Foundation Stars Banquet, recognized as their favorite teachers one art teacher, one music teacher, two librarians, a sign language teacher, a history teacher and a coach.
But, not even a year ago, our own former governor, Rick Perry, suggested doing away with the Department of Education altogether and, presumably, the 8.3 percent average the federal government contributes to local education budgets.
I do not understand how public education is at once embraced by nearly everyone and how “teacher pay” is synonymous with low pay, and yet school districts are pilloried for their bloat and waste when they hire registered nurses, librarians and art teachers.
Yes, PN-G could save tremendously if, through attrition, they cut dozens of positions. Savings is, by its very definition, an accounting of money not spent.
But savings is also not spending on our students and it’s not spending on our community and not investing in our present as well as our future.
Savings is smart, until it hurts and, by my understanding of the PN-G report, there is no accounting for the consequences of such deep savings.
May our local leaders be wise enough to consider such consequence.

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