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SPOTLIGHT
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USD 489 budget issues a long time coming

Published on -5/22/2014, 1:36 PM

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Online message boards are a trip. A few clicks and a scroll down, and you can get a picture of the general sentiments in the community. I recently went through message boards concerning the Hays USD 489 budget woes, and the picture is grim.

I'd like to note here the board is dealing with problems that already existed. While messages on articles about the budget debate run a gamut from annoyed to downright incendiary, I have yet to read one that points to our recent past in the state, when the tea party took control and ousted anyone with a mind for compromise.

I hate the cuts. I understand the frustration of parents, students and administrators who must work this problem out. It's a doozy. The board is in an untenable position and will find rancor everywhere as they make tough decisions.

It's hard to watch such discord in our community, especially when I have benefitted from public education, and the district was pretty good when our kids were in school. Looking back, I think my biggest complaint was Fred Kaufman wouldn't call enough snow days.

The people I've talked to all have some bitterness about the cuts. Why music and the arts and not football or soccer? Why not lump all extra-curricular activities for the chopping block and save teachers' jobs? How can we lose even one more nurse, librarian or counselor? These positions have been consolidated during the last few years by sharing those people through two or three schools, and now we're losing more professionals. Current policy has stripped teachers of their rights to representation, handily gagging any dispute over fairness.

The school board has voted to increase fees to $150 per student, pro-rating the fee for low-income households in a sliding scale. Unintended consequences of this divisive move are parents who can afford it will resent paying for those who can't, and those with assistance will endure the stigma of being a "taker" one more time. Kids whose parents can't pay won't be in school. This vote reinforces education as a privilege, not a right, and the civil playing field is corrupted, setting us at odds.

More than a few posters on Hays message boards noted the absence of administration cuts, and many mentioned six-figure salaries that could use a trim. They forget a seasoned professional brings more to the table in experience, not just administrators but teachers, secretaries, janitors and kitchen help.

For all those venomous people who want to take cheap, anonymous shots at the school board, I have only one thing to say: You are the perfect example of why we need public education.

These cuts didn't just happen out of the blue. The budget problems we face are the product of tea party politics that cut all social programs under the fantastical "zero tax" plan coming out of Topeka. Neo-conservative voters have given us this mess.

The tea party crossed themselves piously and gave lip service to the veterans, the children, the sanctity of life and the American way. It felt good to believe, but it was a carnival show.

When taxes are cut for the wealthy and corporations, the shortfall filters through to Main Street in many ways. We witness the school budget problems as they play out, but most voters haven't made the connection. We've been given regressive sales tax policies that hit the poor harder than anyone else. We have increased property taxes, and the mill levy is debated one more time because the money has to come from somewhere.

The alternative is an uneducated society. Who wants to go there? What person would choose to stay in Kansas but those of us bred to the prairie, and what does it say of us that we allowed ourselves to be the butt of so many bad jokes?

The taxes that aren't being collected, the taxes that used to fund our schools and elderly and children, taxes that maintained our infrastructure, are gone. The shortfalls we experience are as much about poor management as a lack of funds. The current administration's "Great Experiment" has left this state in squalor.

Another way must be found.

Mary Hart-Detrixhe is a lifelong resident of the prairie and Ellis County. Her work can be found at www.janeQaverage.com.

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