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Merilee Dannemann: Protecting our schools

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By Merilee Dannemann

The Sunday talk shows last week focused on two topics: the fiscal cliff and the issues arising from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, including putting security people in the public schools and increasing services for the mentally ill.

You’d think the two subjects existed on two different planets. Nobody mentioned that one topic was about reducing the cost of government and the other was about potentially expensive new programs. 

Wayne La Pierre, of the National Rifle Association, was quoted as saying, “With all the money in the federal budget can’t we afford to put a police officer in every single school?”  

Where’s he been?

How much would armed security officers in every elementary school cost? If we entrust the lives of children to these officers, we have to pay them adequately.

What salary should they get — more than teachers, perhaps? Let’s have a nice calm chat about that, shall we?

New mental health services are being called for – or replacements for mental health services that used to exist (however imperfect the service or unscientific the knowledge base) that were closed partly for budget reasons.

Some of these services properly belong in the public schools, perhaps in high schools, where they could screen large numbers of young people for problem kids who might go off the deep end some day.  

Wait a second. Haven’t we heard numerous pleas from educators to fund more counseling services, not only to catch the potentially violent but also reach out to all troubled kids: the boys on the verge of giving up on education and possibly  joining criminal gangs, the girls who might make a sadly uninformed decision that would lead to early pregnancy and a life of semi-poverty at best, never doing any better than coping and spawning a new generation of kids who will repeat the pattern? 

Do taxpayers pay the cost of providing enough professionally qualified counselors to provide meaningful interventions to all these kids? And how much do we pay the counselors?  More than the armed guards?

Wait another second. This can’t be left until high school because so many children drop out before they get to high school. 

The programs have to start in middle school; they must be comprehensive because the counselors must always be looking among the 12-year-olds for future mass murderers; and there must be background checks because heaven forbid if one in a million of these counselors turns out to be a child molester.

Soon there will be competition for funding between the security guard programs and the mental health programs, and one or the other, or both, will be inadequately funded, so the original intention of finding the dangerous kids will not be fulfilled. 

Meanwhile, which other programs are being cut to pay for this? Will we see even more cuts in programs like music and art, which otherwise might have engaged some of the otherwise uninspired children and saved them from becoming dropouts?

Will we give up entirely on math and science? Or just let the buildings crumble and house the kids in portable classrooms with no cooling systems or bathrooms?

Or, as Mitt Romney said (and this was perhaps one of his most valid points), are these programs worth borrowing money from China to pay for? 

Because, make no mistake, that is where the money will come from unless it comes from cutting something else, perhaps from cutting the funds for maintenance of bridges and tunnels or having fewer air traffic controllers.

This is how government winds up brimming over with multiplicities of half-baked, poorly performing, inadequately funded programs that don’t quite achieve whatever they were created to achieve, no matter how hard the employees try to do their best. 

Politicians pay solemn lip service to “putting everything on the table.” But it’s up to us to remind them that in public policy everything is related to everything else, and they have to put all these disparate and complex elements on the same table.

 

 Contact Merilee Dannemann through triplespacedagain.com.