Susan's Blog

Friday, March 24, 2006

It’s Budget Time, Pass the Tums

My Brookline Tab column this week was about my town’s inadequate school budget. This would have been my fifth budget cycle, had I not stepped down from School Committee this past January. I could not do it any longer. I have the book tour and other distractions these days and it was too difficult to give it my full attention. In my town, School Committee is supposed to be part-time volunteer work but it ends up being nearly full-time, and with no pay. It’s not about the money, really, but the job is tremendously thankless, and it was very hard for me to advocate for change while being in that position. And I feel there is a great need for change in my town, as progressive and forward-thinking as it is.

We should not be making cuts to the schools, not if we are as proud of the schools as we profess to be. We should be increasing the budget, and raising taxes to do so. Why are taxes a dirty word? Taxes are how we get our roads, our schools, our national parks, our programs like Head Start and Title I. Taxes are how we pay for special education. Private money is just too unpredictable, too prone to narrow ideology.

This year, the proposed budget includes two boneheaded items: reductions in our Performing Arts program and the hiring of a half-time Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) for the kids on the autism spectrum who are not in the substantially separate programs. This is a 20-hour staffer for up to 60 kids! At 7 schools! I was appalled, so I spoke at School Committee last night, as a parent. Very weird to be on the other side of the table.

I talked about how, to paraphrase Shakespeare (I think): For want of a behaviorist, a public school placement was lost. I talked about how Nat has almost never been included in the public schools, even though I am a strong believer in public school, because there has never been adequate behavioral support for his needs. There is no mystery to educating kids with autism and behavioral issues: BCBA’s are a great help, they are the autistic kid’s wheelchair.

I am sick to death of hearing about the Mystery of Autism. And the high cost of special education. It is only a mystery if you don’t learn the approaches. SPED is costly but no SPED is even costlier. Think about it. Where do those people end up?

Poor planning is the culprit. My town did not provide for Nat other than to place him in an expensive out-of-district private school, and I’m grateful for that, of course, but there is a rub: Nat is practically lost to his community because of the much-vaunted Mystery of Autism.

The only mystery here is how to get my elected officials and school administrators to start planning and stop being pennywise and pound foolish.

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