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Richard Bogartz: Throw off the ‘burden;’ raise the dues!

This page contained two columns and a letter on the school budget last week. Deborah Lee Leonard, who in turn cites a previous letter and guest column in support, and regular columnist Jim Oldham address what they see as imbalance in the central office administration funding vs. hands-on teachers, counselors and paraprofessionals, with too great a torque on the administrative arm.

Oldham decries administrative growth. Leonard speaks to greater needs for those who work with students.

Superintendant of Schools Maria Geryk responds to such claims with disclaimers concerning administrative growth and argues that there is “a new fiscal reality that cannot be ignored.”

She cites declining revenue, reductions in grant funding, and increasing legacy costs and mandates. She claims that “it would be fiscally irresponsible not to take the necessary steps to reduce per pupil costs, but it would be ethically irresponsible not to address the needs of our changing student population.”

To be sure, decisions must be made and someone must make them. I am confident that those who are speaking out on both sides have their hearts in the right places and their minds focused on the welfare of our children. With both ignorance and lack of expertise on my side, I will certainly not weigh in on which way and how far these decisions should go. Rather, I want to speak out about what is not being said by any of the proponents.

By dividing over administration vs. hands-on, we conquer ourselves. We agree to the terms of the game that there is insufficient funding of what is arguably our most important social program, education, and we squabble over the parameters of the triage. In so doing, we miss the forest for the triage. We are riveted on the components of our dilemma to the point of virtually ignoring the cause.

And what is the cause? Underfunding. And why is education underfunded? Because we have been sold a bill of goods the way trash is sold to us on late night TV, and we refuse to Google to see the reviews, the complaints, and the scam warnings. We have been sold on the notion that taxes are a burden, they weigh heavily on our weak shoulders, and we must do everything in our power to lighten the load.

At a recent University of Massachusetts Amherst Faculty Senate meeting even so enlightened and public spirited a State Representative as Steve Kulik, Vice Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, referred to the “burden” that Massachusetts taxpayers carry. I respectfully urged him to reconsider using this term and perhaps change to the use of “dues” as a way of describing the money we pay to belong to the club that is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Our club is underfunded. We do not pay enough dues. To be sure, those who want to destroy public services so that they can be profitized have been propagandizing against government functions and the taxes that support them. But it is we who are ultimately responsible. None of the letter writers address this underlying cause of the school system funding issue. I think they should. There is no way to avoid paying the dues. It is just the form of the payment that varies. If our state income taxes are too low, we pay with underfunded education, underfunded town government, etc. The holes in the road that tear up our cars are the way we pay our dues when we underfund government. The shortage of ambulances on nights when there are big events on campus is another.

State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and State Rep. Ellen Story want to hear from us that we will love them and vote for them even if they vote to raise our taxes. Let them know. Tell them. Become a part of the solution. Send Rosenberg an email at Stan. Rosenberg@masenate.gov right now and send Story an email at ellen.story@mahouse.gov. Do it now!

Richard S. Bogartz is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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