Priorities

I'm shaking my head as I'm watching a video up on Patch.  And it's taking me back to my days at The Sound Observer, when we reported on the insanity that is a school budget vote.

In many ways, the issues we ran into in those days at SWR weren't dissimilar to the ones faced by Sachem today, even though their situations are completely different.  The major difference is that we have this new and completely whack-a-doo process for achieving consensus on what ought to be budgeted for.  I think our school superintendent has done a reasonably good job at informing the public of the consequences of failing to pass the budget on the first try.  I think public understanding falls apart in the wake of the failure, though, and a lot of people need to be educated about the substance of what happens now.  I also think the process itself needs a ton of work, and that the community shouldn't be in a place where they're forced to make a bunch of false choices.  For instance, pass the largest proposed property tax increase on Long Island or lose full-day kindergarten.

What I'm about to post is going to seem inflammatory to some.  I've definitely got a dog in this hunt, as my daughter will start kindergarten next year, and I'm personally very disappointed by the proposal to move to half-day kindergarten.  That said, I feel like there are two fundamental disconnects when it comes to making these choices.  Let's get the more obvious one out of the way...

Close the freaking middle schools.  Enrollments are decreasing.  My understanding is that the BOE is reluctant to make the decision to close two of the four middle schools because they don't yet fully understand the economic impact of doing so.  First off, the fact that we don't have the right information in order to make the decision one way or another is an unbelievable disgrace.  That decision was looming for quite some time - to not have information at the ready is the fault of the BOE and they should be ashamed.  When you have districts on the island that have, in the past, considered consolidation as an option even when enrollments are flat or increasing, to balk at making that decision when enrollments are decreasing is irresponsible.  Close the schools, assess the savings later.  Such a move may prevent Sachem from having to make even more difficult decisions down the line.  I don't understand why the BOE is waiting.

Then there's the tougher one.

Sports aren't as important as academics.  Period.  There I said it.  I've covered school boards and written about them on many occasions and this is a classic problem that has grown worse on a macro level over the years.  We have an unhealthy attachment to sports programs such that we prioritize them above academic programs, and that's wrong.  Over the years I've found that the attachment is driven mostly by emotion - parents who live vicariously through their kids and harbor dreams of sports scholarships and the NBA or NFL.  Or it's driven by some misguided argument that sports somehow teach our kids more valuable lessons about how to be part of a team, or about leadership skills.  Curiously, people who argue that notion are dismissive of how things like the Robotics Club can teach those things, too.  And they can do it while teaching skills that will be far more valuable to kids after they graduate.  As an employer, I can tell you I've never hired a kid because he could throw a ball around.  If he knows Python, on the other hand...

Wake up, people.  Employers are telling you what you need to do as far as preparing kids for jobs after they graduate.  And basketball ain't it.  Which is why it's nothing short of a fucking disgrace that something like the Robotics Club has to live with a 50% budget cut when it's giving kids the preparation for jobs in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields we so sorely need.  Yes, STEM jobs.  That thing the President keeps talking about in his State of the Union speeches.  He's not talking about football.

And yes, it's even more of a disgrace that we'll consider forcing 5-year-olds to learn the same amount of material in half the time, while varsity sports escape the budget axe unscathed.  These short-term fixes at the expense of long-term education have already caught up to us.  Making more of the same mistakes will just increase the gap between the overall quality of our education and that of other nations.  Many Sachem residents won't care, until they notice that the low education standards have decreased the quality of life around them.

So this is why I'm shaking my head at the Patch video, as I watch the first woman to speak get it so right and then have to listen to idiotic comments from the second about why we should have respect for the notion that athletics are as important as academics.  Fuck that.  They're not, and yet we already behave as if athletics are not just equal, but a priority over academics.  Academic clubs have already been relegated to the role of second fiddle.  If it were otherwise, you'd have the sports boosters fully and privately funding the expensive equipment, insurance, transportation and other costly line items, instead of having parents have to make tough decisions about where their child should attend kindergarten three mere months before school starts.