The Cost of Savings

Saving Schools

Saving SchoolsIn 2011 our school superintendent talked about our educational choices as not being able to afford the Cadillac but instead getting a Taurus. You know you are in trouble when your educational choices are all about U.S. automobile brands from the 1980s. Probably not a sign of forward-looking thinking. Meanwhile, our state senator was running push polls promoting caps on property taxes and asking us to choose between the priorities of jobs or same-sex marriage. It was not a good time for a “Saving Schools” attempt.

That kind of framing led directly to the planned closure of our central neighborhood school. For a projected savings of one million dollars, I predicted the following results:

  • 200 students re-districted and moved from mostly walking to mostly buses and automobiles. On that basis alone it seems difficult to believe the one million dollar savings will materialize. At a time when people worry about CO2 emissions and the health consequences of increased sedentism, it cannot be a good idea to move toward more buses and automobiles.
  • Laying off 10-14 people, which is really the bulk of where these so-called savings will come from. Cutting jobs in a fragile economy, in an already economically-depressed region. It cannot be a good idea to slash income and potential spending while trying to revitalize the downtown and local shops on Main Street.
  • An increase in class sizes across the district to the contract maximum. More kids, more potential disciplinary distractions from learning, more kids falling through the cracks–it all means a decrease of instructional time, which is the one clear determinant of improved student learning outcomes.
  • A decrease in real-estate values in the already beleagured central neighborhoods–this will only increase the incentives to live outside the city limits and exacerbate a trend of people commuting from outlying areas. Property taxes may not rise–but those so-called savings could very well be offset by real-estate decline.

I write as someone who is very personally concerned with these issues–two kids in elementary school, and having bought a house precisely to be able to walk to schools and the downtown. And I cribbed my reasons from my daughter’s drawing above. This plan is far from a done deal, and I would urge anyone in the area to check out the Facebook group Support Oneonta Schools and Closing a school is a problem–not a solution.

The general issue is larger–it’s about the false economy of choices based solely on short-term budgets and political expediency. It’s about re-framing these issues in terms of a human economy. And we need to again realize that a discourse reducing all choices to economics, markets, and budgets “may not be the most respectful of the planet we share, nor indeed the most accurate nor the most practical. We owe it to ourselves to say that it is not the most beautiful nor the most optimistic” (Trouillot, Global Transformations, p.139).

Update: For more on how this issue developed please see Oneonta and Center Street School, 1981-2012.

To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2012. “The Cost of Savings and Saving Schools: Fighting a School Closing.” Living Anthropologically website, First posted 10 March 2012. Revised 21 September 2017.

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