No need for the blame game

Published 7:06 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

The summer begins on a bit of a sour note locally. After weeks and months of sitting on pins and needles, anxiously awaiting the other shoe of state proration to drop, the reformed education budget received its long-awaited gubernatorial signature this week.

That signature meant a lot of things to a lot of people. But to 22 employees of the Demopolis City Schools system, it meant the summer would begin with the uncertainy of unemployment in the midst of the worst economy in recent memory.

Weeks of debates and deliberations in Montgomery resulted in finality this week.

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But finality is not always victory. There is little to be counted as positive here in the City of the People. Yet, while moral victories exist only with amateur athletics and unrealistic people, it would be a mistake for the community as a whole not to recognize that things in Demopolis are not as bad as they could have been.

That is a tough pill to swallow at the moment. But it is the truth. For a school system that was already operating with 10 more teachers than the state was funding, it could have been worse. For a school system that saw a drop in enrollment in the same year as the evaporation of stimulus funds, things could have been a lot worse.

No one likes to lose their jobs. Ever. And it is perfectly natural to attempt to find someone to blame in such trying times. But the blame game this time should start in the state’s capitol city.

This legislature clamored about preserving Other Current Expense funds after Gov. Robert Bentley’s initial budget proposal. Bentley wanted to decrease the amount of OCE funds per classroom unit, but the legislature fought that point. Instead, their approach resulted in the loss of classroom units, which resulted in the loss of Other Current Expense funds. So the 10 DCS support employees who are currently unemployed after this week need look no further than their elected state leaders for blame.

As for the teachers who are currently trying to gameplan for the future, much of the blame remains in downtown Montgomery. Throughout this process, there was a contingent banging the drum to cut the number of days in a given school year from 187 to 175. The move would have resulted in tens of millions of dollars in savings statewide and kept job loss at a minimum. Instead, an administration that has shouted from the rooftops its intent to create jobs and help recharge the state economy, opted to keep schools open 12 more days and put countless people out of work in an awful economy.

So the 12 teachers who are currently wondering why this has happened to them can start answering that question by looking squarely at the state’s decision makers.

It is virtually an inarguable point that the state legislature, despite all of its reforms and promising words, has once again failed in the areas of education and employment.

But not all of the responsibility for Demopolis’ problems can lie in Montgomery. The city must continue taking steps to promote population growth and tourism as Demopolis City Schools rely heavily on sales tax dollars for success. More importantly, the current administration of DCS must be better stewards than its predecessors. Over the last two fiscal years DCS has received more than $2.6 million in alternate funding. Rather than looking forward, trimming fat and saving funds, those in charge of the checkbook did little planning for the inevitable. If Demopolis schools are to bounce back and avoid similar dark days, leaders must do a better job of managing for the present and the future. Of course, that still won’t help the 22 people whose jobs were lost with the stroke of the governor’s pen.

Jeremy D. Smith is the community editor of The Demopolis Times.