Tonawanda News

March 21, 2012

OUR VIEW: Time to fundamentally rethink education

The Tonawanda News

— — In the three school districts primarily composing the Tonawandas we are seeing, in varying degrees, the beginning of the end of education here as we know it.

The money we have, for generations, used to fund our schools has all but dried up. Budget hawks at the federal and state levels — and from both political parties — have faced up to the reality that Congress can’t spend its way out of trouble and Albany can’t do the same with raising taxes.

The end result is what you see happening here. North Tonawanda is closing an elementary school and laying off teachers. The City of Tonawanda may well do the same and close a school. The laundry list of layoffs proposed and documented in Tuesday’s paper was nothing short of eye-popping.

The Ken-Ton district is facing its own mountain to climb and a full-day kindergarten program may not survive the hike.

What’s next? No more history class?

Just in our tiny corner of the country, we are missing millions of dollars to fund our schools.

The end result, if we continue on this path of cutting through the bone will be education factories: Hulking, ominous buildings housing too many students with too few teachers and precious few resources to enlighten and educate our children to face the technology era.

Education funding levels aren’t likely to substantially increase anytime soon. That means the question of how to close these deficits isn’t going away. The answer cannot simply be to close a school every year and cram ever more children into the remaining space.

We must fundamentally rethink the system if we are to survive and provide a meaningful primary and secondary public education.

This will require asking tough questions. We must look past whether an individual school should exist and ask, more broadly, does this district need to exist? Should North Tonawanda align itself with Niagara-Wheatfield or Starpoint — or both? Should Tonawanda, by far the smallest of the three districts, merge with Ken-Ton?

What savings would be seen that could ease the cuts we’re facing to classroom instruction?

Around here, the powers that be are beyond reticent to suggest such wholesale changes. Entrenched interests in the districts and their unions — and simple pride on the part of the community at large — prevent such conversations from ever taking place in any meaningful way.

But we are facing a new reality: Change or die. These budget shortfalls cannot continue to be met by cutting programs and the teachers who run them. Our federal spending and state taxes cannot continue to go up. Something has got to give.

The sooner the education leaders in this community face up to that reality and begin to address it, the more we can save and the better off we will be. And the better off our children will be, too.