Free Falling

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
I’ve been following with rapt attention the developments of late concerning the budget woes of our great state of Kansas and how they relate to Unified School District 410.

Even with the recent passage of the new finance package, the issue remains at best confused.

Of course, I have a vested interest in what happens in Topeka. My livelihood as a teacher is directly affected more than ever before by the goings-on in the capitol.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel sorry for our new governor. Though she obviously knew during the campaign the Herculean task that awaited the winner, most governors have historically enjoyed a bit more of an extended settling in period.

Kathleen Sebelius’ honeymoon has been the shortest since the Michael Jackson, Lisa Marie Presley marriage.

But I digress. Hillsboro superintendent Gordon Mohn has been out shaking the bushes to see if a good idea might fall out. He’s been asking for opinions from anyone and everyone concerning how to bridge an expected $300,000 gap in next year’s budget.

I commend him for the efforts he and the board of education have made to reach out to the people. Even teachers have been given the opportunity to weigh in with their choices to increase revenue and cut expenses.

Mohn has admitted up front that the board wants input, but ultimately, the members of that body will make the decisions that need to be made.

As both taxpayers and employees of the school district, Hillsboro teachers and staff members are in a unique position. Like others in the community, we’d rather not see our taxes increase. After all, we are not exempt from paying our share. Our paychecks will be affected just like everyone else’s.

On the other hand, we wouldn’t mind making a bit more money or at least holding on to what we have.

As a side note, I find it amusing when politicians promise they will not increase our taxes. Well, guess what? By choosing not to add any new “revenue enhancers” at the state level, they simply pass the burden on to the local governing entities.

I can’t imagine that we will not see an increase in the local option budget in our school district. And, friends, that will cost you money, even as your elected officials in the statehouse smugly pat themselves on the backs for holding the line on taxes.

Who are they kidding?

I’ll be one of the first to admit that we can trim some fat in the Hillsboro school system. But, as Mr. Mohn has correctly pointed out, we have become accustomed to some of the “luxuries” we have been enjoying.

For example, if we decide we have more than enough custodians, are we willing to put up with dirtier buildings? We are proud of our facilities. I have often heard visitors’ compliments about how clean our campus is.

Or, are those who have enjoyed watching their children compete on the athletic fields willing to pony up some cash to help defray the expenses? Is pay-to-play a viable option? Are parents who live in the outlying areas of USD 410 interested in setting up carpools for the purpose of returning their children home after athletic practices if it means the district can save nearly $10,000 by not providing those bus services?

I’m not sure what the answer to this problem is. I know our state is not the only one facing this type of financial crisis. I know our district is not the only one shifting into survival mode. This will likely be just another “Band-aid” year in terms of the overall budget situation.

It would have been nice if the new “No Child Left Behind” edict from the federal government would have come with some cash left behind to fund it. But, that’s another issue for another time.

The silver lining to this cloud of financial doubt comes in the form of better communication between the district and its patrons. Other area school systems are looking to Hillsboro’s Mohn as a leader in his approach to solving this problem.

Those of us who have taken the time to fill out a survey should feel empowered by having our voices heard. I only hope that if there is a great idea out there somewhere, somebody with the power to make it happen will be listening.

* * *

I promised myself I would avoid commenting on the war with Iraq. After all, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? However, a recent incident demonstrated just how volatile the situation can quickly become when opinions differ, even in humble Marion County.

In a letter to the editor of an area daily newspaper, a local couple expressed the opinion that perhaps American motives in occupying a foreign country in the Middle East are less than pure.

I find it ironic that the same people who verbally assaulted the couple for being anti-American and unpatriotic and suggesting in written responses that, among other things, the pair be shipped off to Baghdad as human shields for Saddam, are the same people who vehemently have pointed out that our soldiers are overseas protecting and promoting the right to free speech.

Those who are the first in line to condemn the local pair also have said there is a heavy price to pay for preserving our freedoms, including the first amendment.

Apparently, it is also expensive to attempt to use those rights if one’s beliefs are contrary to those held by supporters of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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