I have been waging an internal battle with the Moorestown Education Association all year, and frankly, I’ve had enough. As we approach another school budget election with still no teacher’s contract in sight, I am wondering how many people will vote AGAINST the 2011-12 school budget because they’re tired of the quagmire we’ve been slogging through since last fall.
To be fair, it is not all the teachers’ fault. If you’ve never taught, and I would say that the majority of those reading this have not, you have no idea how difficult it is to teach in the 21st century. Our educators are not just responsible for teaching the three R’s: reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic. They are also teaching manners, dealing with bullies, divorce, custody issues, learning disabilities and parents who think their little darlings could never be wrong or misbehave. How exhausting to have to focus on territory that used to be the responsibility of parents? I have the greatest of respect for educators, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I am thrilled to be ending my affair with the public schools of Moorestown, because the "average" teachers have far outnumbered the wonderful teachers. There! I’ve said what most of you have been grousing about for years. If anyone knows a good bodyguard, give him my phone number.
The education system in our country is flawed. Just ask David Guggenheim, whose recent film Waiting for Superman explores all of public education’s failings, including the hot topic of tenure. Here’s a horrific statistic for you, culled from the state of Illinois: one in 57 doctors was dismissed for a poor performance evaluation, one in 97 lawyers was fired for incompetency, yet only one in 2,500 teachers was dismissed for inadequacy! Why are bad teachers protected by tenure and allowed to continue pretending to teach while other incompetent professionals are let go?
Moorestonians are proud of their schools. We are constantly told that good schools keep property values high. So the lack of a teacher’s contract this year is a bit like a black eye; a very embarrassing shiner that we wish we could cover with a pair of Ray-Bans and forget about. But here comes that pesky school budget, as it does every spring, and some people in town are having trouble separating the teacher contract issue with the Board of Education’s 2011-12 budget.
This has been the year of minimal decorations in the classroom, of teachers wearing black on Back-to-School night and on other occasions, the red MEA T-shirts of solidarity. Taylor and I attended our final Back-to-School night last fall. As we were walking into the high school, we passed several expensive sedans with signs that read “Respect and Fairness.” I had left my baseball bat at home, which is a good thing because instead of feeling sympathy for the teachers, I actually wanted to club their Beemers; leave them my own special sign.
So many of us have lost jobs, are working without raises or are paying dearly for basic health insurance. Our children are not oblivious to the negativity that has hung over this school year. It has impacted everyone in this town.
So, this murky, dark cloud hangs over us as we go to the polls next month. Many voters will be tempted to send a message to the BOE and the MEA by voting down the budget because they are so weary of the yearlong fight we’ve been embroiled in. Many of us whose children are going on to college and leaving the school system will think it’s not our battle anymore. Our children may be moving on to higher education, but we stay behind and must vote yes or no.
Take a look at the proposed school budget and you’ll see that in this economy, everyone loses. Last year’s huge hit of over $3 million dollars is still being felt. Couple that with declining student enrollment and a weak ratable base, and we’re looking at huge cuts and more taxes. Ain’t it grand to live in New Jersey where the taxes are high and the livin’ is easy? Tell that to the 31 full-time employees who will lose their jobs as part of the 2011-12 budget…if it passes.
This is happening in "Moorestowns" all over the country. These are very difficult times that we’re living through but as flawed as our educational system is, it is all we’ve got and we have to support it until we can change it. That is the key.
We are fortunate to live in a country where we can voice our opinions and change things. Last year, the pre-first program was going to be cut. Many parents spoke out about its value and the program was reinstated. It is back on the block again. Want to save it? Speak up! Get involved!
I realize that I’ve been all over the educational map with this column, when what I’m really trying to say is that regardless of how we feel about the MEA, our seriously flawed educational system and the outrageous taxes that increase every year while the quality of our services decreases, it is still important to vote.
I don’t usually dabble in public service announcements. I am also not a professional meeting go-er. But every once in a while, it’s important to crawl out from under my desk and see what people are proposing, and how those proposals will affect me.
Cross your toes and fingers and let’s hope that the MEA and the BOE can come to an agreement. Let’s also hope that Santa Claus will bring me everything that I’ve asked for in December, including world peace and a house at the beach.