I should be pre-occupied with upcoming events like baseball and spring cleaning, but the ongoing nationwide tug of war over public school finances motivated me to put pen to paper. Over the years, I have heard the annual battle cry from many public school administrators that if the annual school budget does not pass, art and music programs will be severely cut or cancelled.  Harsh words for Mom and Dad who have a student in the school band or for parents who like putting school art work on the refrigerator. I personally never thought it was fair to pick on art and music teachers when it comes to K through 12 school finances. Possibly for a change of pace, someone should pick on the foreign language teachers instead. Why isn’t Chinese being taught in our school systems instead of Spanish? On this same note, if I were a bank loan officer, I would deny every home loan application submitted to me by an art or music teacher. Yes that is correct. I would have a big red ink stamp that says “denied” or “rejected.”  I would stamp the first page of the loan application with it. There would of course be loud vocal protests. How could you deny my loan application? I have a perfect credit score! My response would be simple, “there is no assurance you will have a job for more than twelve months.” See, it is plain for anyone to read in the newspaper. This week’s headlines: School Board Debates Cutting Music Programs If Budget Fails. Gasp.

Going back in time when I was attending elementary school in the Midwest, my art teacher (first year on the job) busted the $150.00 art supplies budget. I have never observed such a frugal art budget. Students were allowed to use water based paints only, so the brushes could be reused. The paint brushes were very old. I did observe words on the paint brush handle marked “Made in Occupied Japan.” It was I believe 1969 when I read those words. Needless to say, my art teacher (a collateral duty besides being the English Teacher) fell out of favor with the principal. He was not invited back to teach for a second year. There were also limitations on both sides of the fence when it came to the high school band. The music director in our small farming community had a habit of raising a public ruckus each and every time a discussion ensued by the Board of Education about school finances, especially if the music program had to be scaled back financially. Well, this went on for about a decade. Regrettably, the music teacher decided to pick a fight at an inopportune time, the old red brick school building roof leaked.  The roof got repaired and the music teacher moved on, though not by choice. I recall the School Board found someone half the age for about two thirds the cost. Some folks said the music program actually improved shortly thereafter.

The above commentary points to the need to put public education dollars where the dollars best serve the public interest. The money should be spent in the classroom, not in maintaining unnecessary overhead expense. Having said that, I believe a valid case now exists for consolidating the Atlantic Highlands, Highlands Elementary and Henry Hudson Regional School Boards into one school board, not three. Children in both elementary schools should have the same educational curriculum. To say differently, begs the question as to why? The children will for all practical purposes attend the same middle and senior high school. Should one elementary school be treated differently than the other? Merging the Boards Of Education will save taxpayers money. Yes, I realize there are multiple claims of sharing resources among the schools. I also realize a lot more can be accomplished besides sharing the Office Max and Staples office supply catalogs.  Throughout the Garden State, too many communities support out dated or antiquated school board structures in the name of home rule. Of course home rule typically benefits those who run it more so than the public good.  Several leading New Jersey newspapers have brought this issue to light. Throw in a moderate dose of nepotism for good measure when evaluating the situation.

The Henry Hudson Regional High School Board Of Education should take the lead in developing proposals to consolidate the local Boards of Education. I venture to say that it may show up on the public ballot down the road. Teacher compensation, health benefits, and career growth opportunities all cost money. It is time the Boards of Education move forward with meaningful cost savings measures. The heavy tax burden must be lifted from low income families, the elderly and growing numbers of frustrated over taxed middle class families. Annual school budgets must no longer be based on emotions and harassment of art and music teachers. These teachers simply don’t deserve it and neither do the taxpayers.

 

Gerald Thomas
Atlantic Highlands, NJ