Being famous is losing its attraction

Why would anybody desire fame and fortune these days? Would we be any happier if we were millionaires or professional athletes?

Recent national news headlines have led me to the conclusion that I am much better off being a middle-aged schoolteacher, toiling away in relative obscurity (except for the notice this column gets me each month. Oh, and the attention I receive for announcing football and basketball games).

Allow me to expound on the virtues of anonymity. For starters, I can go anywhere I want and not have people hound me for autographs. I might be recognized at the local Wendy?s, but if I am detained by anyone, it is likely to be students who want to know how they did on a test or neighbors who just wish to say hello.

To be honest, my wife is more likely to be recognized from her work at the local post office. She knows everybody in town, and they seem to know her. These meetings with the locals are nearly always friendly and uncomplicated.

In contrast, world-famous celebrities need sunglasses and bodyguards if they want to go out on the town for a bite to eat or a trip to the local mall. At times, they must feel like prisoners in their own oversized homes.

How tiring it must be to live under the microscope of public scrutiny, one?s every move analyzed and criticized. The richest professional athlete in the world, a man recognized by just his first name, can?t drive his Escalade into a fire hydrant and a tree at 2:30 in the morning without drawing the attention of every media outlet in the world. He has been the butt of every late-night comedian?s jokes since his mishap.

Though it?s really none of anyone?s business what led to the early-morning crash, our voyeuristic society can?t get enough of the biggest story since John and Kate learned to hate.

Heck, it?s not even safe to be a college football coach in our fair state. Poke one of your players in the chest, and before you know it, you?ll be kicked curbside and left to count the $6 million your college still owes on your contract. Money can?t buy happiness if all you wanted to do was mold the character of young men. When you are forced out, you are bound to feel bad, at least for a little while.

Fame can?t buy immortality, either. Think of all the celebrities who have died prematurely: Elvis, Michael Jackson, Jack London, Chris Farley. And, I actually believe I am happier on a day-to-day basis than any of these guys ever were. I am not pressured to enhance my job performance with chemical substances. I don?t have to worry about maintaining my status in a dog-eat-dog business. I don?t exist in a what-have-you-done-lately world.

* * *

Heading a different direction now, I am compelled to comment on the budget crisis we face in Kansas. Gov. Mark Parkinson dropped the budget ax again a few weeks ago in an attempt to meet financial obligations for the fiscal year. Income, it seems, is still declining thanks to the national recession. Once again, however, schools and other vital services are taking a big hit.

At least one person, State Revenue Secretary Joan Wagnon, is urging lawmakers to repeal sales tax exemptions worth $140 million in 2010 and $146 million in 2011.

Wagnon has been saying for a long time that sales tax exemptions and tax abatements are putting an unnecessary strain on state coffers. Budget shortfalls are projected at $256 million for the current year alone. She suggests that closing tax loopholes will go a long way toward solving our financial crisis.

I have been saying the same thing for years. Legislators have been handing out pork to anyone and everyone who asks for it for decades. Now is the time for the state to take back those pet exemptions.

In an article in the December issue of the Hillsboro High School Oracle newspaper, USD 410 superintendent Steve Noble said the governor?s cuts will force the district to deal with more budget stress following last year?s loss of more than $500,000 in state aid.

This is the second year in a row that the state will fail to fulfill its promised revenue for school operations. Districts are attempting to operate at 2006 funding levels. The problem is, prices for goods and services are at 2010 levels.

Folks, we are no longer looking at ?cutting back? programs at USD 410. Officials are now talking about eliminating them altogether. That may mean returning to the days of teaching the three R?s, a prospect that state Republicans seem to have been pushing as a goal for years. Are art, music, journalism, technical education and language study not important anymore?

The budget mess may also finally force consolidation of smaller districts and the closing of many schools across Kansas. Boards will continue to look at shortening the year.

I question how any of this is good for education. As a teacher, I wonder what literature unit I will be forced to eliminate in the interest of saving a few bucks. Should I no longer teach ?Romeo and Juliet? or ?The Odyssey?? Will I be forced to leave out Mark Twain or John Steinbeck or Harper Lee? Do I no longer stress writing because there just isn?t enough time to cover it properly in a shortened semester?

You will hear from some state politicians that we still haven?t cut away the fat from education, we haven?t reached the bone. At this point, I believe we are beginning to carve away at the marrow itself. Without additional revenue sources like those suggested by Wagnon, our children are going to suffer educationally. Of that, there is no doubt.

Hillsboro teachers received an e-mail passed on by administrators last week that provides an interesting angle on government funding priorities. It pointed out that in America we spend $1 million per year to keep one soldier on the ground in Afghanistan?add another 30,000 troop members as of last week?according to Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman.

We spend $47,780 per year to keep one Kansas senator in the state legislature in Topeka, according to answer.com.

We spend $35,632 per year to keep one inmate in Kansas prisons, according to PBS.

But some of our Kansas legislative leaders think that $4,100 is too much money to spend per year to keep one school child educated.

It?s certainly something to think about.

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