The marathon of budget time
What does it take to run a marathon?
You can buy a pair of expensive running shoes, buy all kinds of energy goops and gels and those cool water bottle belts with the tiny bullet-loop type bottles that are more cute than practical. You can get a nice pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones and a running outfit from the most expensive athletic outlet in the mall.
But on race day, all of that gear means absolutely nothing if you haven’t put the time into training – and even training won’t get you across the finish line in one piece if you don’t have something to fight for, or someone or something to keep you focused on that end goal.
Although marathon running is, by its nature, a solitary endeavor, very few can make it through to the end without some kind of support; without some element of teamwork.
While it may seem silly to compare the upcoming 122nd running of the Boston Marathon this Monday to the road ahead for the Warwick School Department – in truth, it is silly, but stick with us for the sake of the metaphor – in reality there are some similarities between trying to budget a city’s schools and pushing your body to the physical limits; especially in Warwick.
The schools have been embattled for years now by a lingering contract dispute which, at times, seemed like a Dante’s Inferno type of damnation – where you run all the way up Heartbreak Hill only to find yourself at the bottom again once you reached what you thought was the top.
The administrators, whose jobs are literally to try and provide the best environment for students to succeed, have been the subjects of endless criticism by teachers – some of which were valid critiques based on questionable decision-making or waffling and some of which were the result of an unreasonable, unattainable bar of perfection that was ambiguously set during the height of contract tensions.
Likewise, teachers in the past few years have been subject to continuously crumbling infrastructure, layoffs and are now going through an unprecedented consolidation period where they are being faced with a lot of change very quickly. Some argue that communication breakdowns still happen regularly with administrators over simple things like buying paper, or larger things like not having curriculums nailed down yet. These are legitimate concerns as well.
However, the simple fact of the matter is and has remained since the heated pickets that underscored last summer, that a fractured school department does nothing but hurt students. Compromise and patience must be the standard.
Likewise, although the two bodies are required to remain separate, nobody benefits from the School Committee and the City Council quarreling over their business. It has been made all too clear from recent interactions that at least a few council members do not trust the school department to conduct their business, and that they will make interactions between the two bodies difficult regardless of the situation at hand.
The school department is going to have to ask for more money later this spring due to a litany of issues that have increased expenses despite enrollment decreasing and despite the consolidation of schools. Unless there is proof to suggest otherwise (and we’d be happy to go over it with you), there is no valid reason to assume that the schools are fudging numbers for some nefarious purpose. What they present is the financial situation they find themselves in.
The City Council is a crucial part of the educational team in Warwick – right alongside students, parents, teachers and even administrators – with a responsibility to be able to digest this information and make a financial decision that enables the schools to continue providing an essential service to students of all ages. You cannot hold yourself accountable to “the taxpayers” without also considering that a vast number of those taxpayers send their kids to public schools in the city.
Nobody is saying that the road behind us has been perfect or that the road ahead looks like it will be any easier – but that’s just the nature of a marathon. Let’s work together and get there in one piece.