Friday, November 22, 2019

Learning to dream again


What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode? 

One thing that I do periodically is I type "Worcester, MA" over at Donors Choose and I read through the requests. As I am typing this, that search yields requests like:
  • a class set of novels
  • a classroom carpet
  • board games for indoor recess
  • organzational supplies (like folders)
  • tuba stands
  • printer ink 
The most expensive items on there are class sets of Chromebooks, a document camera, a spotlight, and a physics instrument for measuring speed...nothing that's really an "extra" there.
When earlier this week I found several requests from Worcester come through my social media--for a tent for sports, for lighting--I checked to see if they'd been made as budget requests. Those that had were quickly told that there was no budget for these standard items.
And so, teachers and parents do what they have often done: they went to raise money elsewhere. 

In many, many cases, teachers and parents and even principals simply do not ask anymore. In recent years, the budget in Worcester relays a total amount of unfulfilled requests from principals; this year (it's on page 16 of the FY20 budget), that line totals $15.1M on a budget which totals $420M.

That $15.M, though, includes only 63 additional teachers, 18 support positions, and 15 school support positions, for a system of over 25,000 students.
It only includes $1M in urgent building repairs for a system of 50 buildings, the oldest of which date back before the Civil War, which has been funding facilities needs at 60% of foundation.
It has no increase in basic supplies, only $300,000 of furniture (for fifty buildings?!), and the $1.3M for technology includes the student information system (which I assume eats most of that).
A quick look around the system argues that the needs are ENORMOUSLY more significant than that. 

But those needs are not even being conveyed, not even in the meetings which ostensibly exist for exactly the reason of asking that question.

The answer has been 'no' so long that we don't even ask anymore.

I was thinking of this again last evening during the public testimony at last night's School Committee (which gets a glancing reference in Scott O'Connell's article here). While the testimony wasn't all on the same topic--some was on student discipline and some on district school committee representation--it had in common the explicit framing that far too many people have gone unheard in Worcester, particularly around the Worcester Public Schools, for far too long.
Is it, then, any wonder, as Hughes wrote in 1951, that those dreams explode?

We are, if all goes well, about to see an increase in funding for the Worcester Public Schools at a rate not seen since the early 1990's. It is the chance of a generation to make a real difference for our students.
But we have to ask.

The problem, which is of course much much bigger than the funding, is that people have gone unheard for a very long time. In many cases, they still are.

So why should they come and tell us what is needed?

We don't just have a funding gap. We have a trust gap.
The funding gap, we should see progress on this coming year.
To handle it effectively, though, we have to recognize and mend the gap in trust that leaves needs not only unmet but unspoken and unacknowledged. 

1 comment:

MD65 said...

I love this very thoughtful and well-informed post. You have hit upon a very important issue - trust gap. I wonder If that trust gap also lingers in the minds of local school and municipal officials as questions linger. Is this level of funding sustainable? The last legislation that stipulated a phase in over a number of years took a lot longer to phase in and never really reached the promised levels. Where will the revenue come from to allow a sustained infusion of necessary funding? More importantly, will we seize the opportunity to take a hard look at where dollars are being invested and make the difficult decisions that equitable spending requires? As we know, more is not always better. How is the more relevant question. Rebuilding trust will require a whole new level of transparency, communication, and family and community engagement.