Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Burning

I'd never been to a County School Board meeting, which is kind of surprising.

Growing up, my teacher parents went to them all the time. I remembered these meetings fondly; actually, the hour or so before the big show. Mom and Dad would have a couple of friends over, break out a cheeseball and drink a glass or two of relatively shitty white wine.

I might have sneaked a nip or two when nobody was looking.

Anyway, my folks would go to the meeting, leave us with sitter, and then go get pissed off at whatever the board was doing.

School boards, I came to believe, were mostly evil things, made up of chest-thumping autocrats, who slouched miserably toward boisterous incompetence. They made a lot of noise, aggravated everyone and tended to accidentally get things done. They were the third tier of politicians, the C students, the people not likable or smart enough to get elected to the town council or county commission, but willing to put up with a shit job in exchange for a petty fiefdom.

I still feel like I'm right.

An early highlight of the evening was watching one board member glower and berrate an administrator over the choice for a vice principal at a vo tech school. The member thought to do the job you needed to find a nurse, a welder, a computer programmer who had the state required masters degree in Education administration and had also completed their leadership program.

It seemed a bit on the unlikely side, like trying to find a master gardener qualified to fly the space shuttle to do a cooking show.

He went on a loopy rant about how the current vo tech programs in the state were lacking, how they weren't nearly as wonderful as what they were back in the day --though he offered little evidence of that fact. His sole anecdote seemed to be that in days past, the schools were willing to whore their students out to do construction projects for free (for experience, I suppose), which encouraged business --as slave labor tends to.

Somewhat shaken, the little man the board member bitched at, tried to explain that their schools were exemplary schools, certified by the state to be about as good as it's going to get.

He would not be mollifed, though the other four BOE members voted him down. Probably someone should have taken up the issue that he was acting like an asshole.

The big item for the night was an update on the board of education no longer being required by law to support the local library. After several years of struggle, the board won a court case that dissolved a law they helped to craft some 50 years ago, back when the board of education thought having a sustainable library was important, back when they were willing to do more than just flap their gums.

There were several impassioned speeches. A few people came out to say, "Please, don't kill my library." The meeting room was full. Not much got accomplished, except some hearts got broken.

The ruling doesn't prevent the board from providing money for the library. In fact, the BOE is one of three places the library is supposed to go to for funding and other school boards do so voluntarily. However, the noises the local board are making don't much sound like they intend to continue to fund voluntarily. Mostly, it's "We'd love to help, but we're broke."

And they are.

Even before the state supreme court ruling, the board of education was in financial trouble. They were coming up on a three million dollar deficit brought on by a mixture of bad luck and bad planning on their part. Being unshackled from the library for the BOE was like a parent being told they were no longer responsible for feeding and clothing one of their small children, which was convenient because Mom and Dad didn't do so hot playing the market.

When the board ceases providing funds to the public library in a few months, the results will be devastating. It will close six branches and kill off the roving bookmobile. Hours will be reduced at the remaining locations, services will suffer and dozens of people will lose their jobs. The community at-large will become much poorer.

And I believe this with my whole heart.

If the court ruling had gone the other way, the board of education would be facing serious cuts. They'd have had to cut programs throughout the school system, spread the load. School extras, undoubtedly, would have been hit; athletics, for sure. The BOE would have been forced to cancel contracts and probably lay off some staff.

It would have hurt, but the damage could have been spread out and they probably wouldn't be talking about buying new concrete bleachers or discussing whether the new vice principal at the vo tech was qualified to act as the principal's hatchet man and enforcer because she'd never spent time grinding metal in a machine shop.

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