Mixed Feelings on Election Day
By Michael Kaufman
I cast my vote Tuesday with mixed feelings. I have always voted in favor of the local school budgets and did so again even though we no longer have kids in the Warwick school system. I understand the importance of providing a good education to the children of our community and am aware of the harm that can be caused if we fail to do so.
And so I voted “yes” for the budget and “yes” for the purchase of new school buses. Then I voted for two of the three incumbent members of the board of education and for one of the two new candidates who had fought so hard and in vain to prevent the closing of the Pine Island Elementary School. It doesn’t matter which of the incumbents I voted for. All three won re-election. But I felt the people who tried so hard to save their local elementary school deserve to have their voice heard too.
“The fact that our three incumbents were re-elected I think speaks to the community’s belief that there were tough choices to make,” said Ray Bryant, Warwick superintendent of schools (and no relation to the great jazz pianist of the same name). “It’s time to work on healing the district and moving forward.”
I’m glad he at least intimated that the district is ill. It has been for a while. For too long our top school officials have swept problems like drugs, alcohol abuse, bullying, and suicide under the rug to preserve the myth that all is well. But Bryant seems to be suggesting that the people in Pine Island who opposed the closing of their elementary school are the ones who have made healing necessary. I don’t agree.
He is right about one thing: There were tough choices to make. On Tuesday we had a choice of voting for a budget that would slightly increase taxes while cutting back on staff and educational programs, or rejecting the budget and having even more devastating cuts. Talk about voting for the lesser evil. And until there is a change in the way we fund public education, all future school budget elections will probably be the same.
Everyone seems to agree that the system needs to be changed, but beyond that generality are some serious differences. Some blame the teachers’ unions and seek to roll back the healthcare benefits, pensions, and job security they have achieved for their members. Others perceive an excess of high-salaried administrators. Some would scrap physical education and team sports as a way of saving money. Some would cut the arts.
All these miss the point. Public education should be funded by the general tax fund and not by property taxes. It is simply unfair for older citizens who live on fixed incomes to be subjected to tax increases they cannot afford. It is also unfair to our children to scrimp on either physical education or the arts. The Roman poet Juvenal had it right when he wished for mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body).
I hope that in the next election this issue will be addressed by the candidates. I would like to be able to cast my vote for someone who will stand with parents and teachers in our community and beyond to effect meaningful change in school funding. I am tired of voting for the lesser evil.
Now I’m going to listen to a little Ray Bryant music.
Michael can be reached at email@example.com.
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