Guest editorial, March 7-9, 2012
March 14, 2012
The Park City School Board is facing their hardest round yet of "Would You Rather?" Perhaps you are familiar with this quiz-based game that challenges players to choose between unpopular alternatives. Standard game questions include: Would you rather lose your sight or your hearing? Would you rather be buried alive or burned to death? Would you rather suffer from a severe sunburn or frostbite?
The School Board’s version of ‘Would You Rather" includes questions such as: Would you rather deny elementary school children access to information technology curriculum or increase how many students are in high school math classes? Would you rather have high quality teachers take early retirement or have all teachers pay more for healthcare benefits? Would you rather have less administrative support in the school district or freeze teacher’s salaries. In the School Board’s version of the game, each answer must be both if the $5,000,000 budget shortfall is to be addressed.
To be clear, the reason that the School Board must make these painful decisions is due to Utah State Legislator decisions and out of control healthcare costs. Budget tricks at the state level shift responsibility for Social Security expenses off the state budget onto school budgets. State legislation requires that funding for the Weilenmann Charter School come out of the Park City School District budget. Increased costs of health insurance drive human resource costs for the school district ever higher. Proposed legislation related to on-line courses and state mandated curriculum promise additional future rounds of "Would You Rather?"
The game "Would You Rather?" forces players to choose between bad and worse based on individual perceptions. For the school board, what is best for student learning must be the framework upon which difficult decisions are based. With student learning outcomes their single most important consideration, the school should play another round of "Would You Rather?" Additional questions the school board might ask could include: Would you rather increase enrollment in Calculus classes to 33 students or drop an Arab language class with an enrollment of four students? Would you rather retain a class size of 25 in Honors English or drop AP Pottery?
expanding the type of questions asked, opportunities can be opened to ensure that student learning is the focus of these difficult budget decisions. To best support student learning the school board should broaden the questions to include revenue generation options as well as budget cut considerations. Explain to voters the unfair burden our state legislators have placed on the school district., and ask if they would rather suffer poor educational outcomes or increased property taxes. Teachers should also be invited to play the "Would You Rather?" game. Would teachers rather accept a reduction in force or increased personal contributions for health insurance? Would teachers rather maintain the information management, research and critical thinking knowledge offered through media/library curriculum or maintain electives such as jewelry making?
None of these decisions are easy. All have offsetting short-term negative impacts on students, teachers, staff, and administration. What must be considered above all, however, is the long-term affect of how answering these questions might limit future opportunities for our children, and ultimately for own future. Educating our students is the single biggest opportunity for a safe, secure future. Asking the right "Would You Rather?" questions, and carefully evaluating the answers based on how the decision will affect student learning outcomes is the only way to protect our future.
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Vicki Whiting, Ph.D. is a professor of management at Westminster College and author of "In Pain We Trust" and also a parent with children in the Park City School District for over 15 years.