Category: school

To Sport or Not to Sport?

Last night, our local school board made the difficult decision to call off competitive sports this year. The Maine Principals Association had given a green light for sports to continue in some districts, depending on what each individual district felt was best, and so it shifted to a local decision.

Honestly, my reaction is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it seems to me that some sports (cross country being a prime example) surely could find a way to compete in a socially distant fashion. You’re outside, runners generally don’t clump together too much, and you could take steps to make that clumping even less frequent. Additionally, the case rate in my county (as I’ve noted multiple times before) is very low. We have 4 active cases today in the whole county. There has been 1 death. When you have colleges running entire football seasons in areas with much higher case rates, it’s easy to wonder why we couldn’t reach some sort of a compromise that would let competitive sports continue here. (Other districts in the area are moving forward with seasons, after all.)

On the other hand, I look at the potential “worst case scenario” outcomes on both sides of the argument. If you don’t have competitive sports, this might result in some very upset students and parents. Some students who are passionate about sports might grow less engaged in their schooling, and there could be some resulting depression or mental illness. (I’m trying to think as “worst case” as I can here.) On the other side of the coin, if you hold sports anyway, you might bring COVID into a community that has little evidence of it right now. It catches hold in the community, and multiple people die.

That might sound outlandish, but it’s 100% happening across the country now. The only difference between Maine and other states is that in Maine it’s easier to trace exactly where the COVID came from and what happens as a result of it. Case in point: the wedding in Millinocket that has since directly resulted in 176 COVID cases and 7 deaths. If that family had chosen to not have a public wedding, 7 people would still be alive today, and our case count would be at least 3.6% lower than it is right now. From one single event. I’m not sure who it was who got married (definitely safer for them not to be publicly known), but imagine making national headlines for the way your marriage ceremony ended up impacting your entire state.

With sports in Maine, you could potentially have something similar happen. And where in other states, COVID is rampant enough that you can’t be sure where a case came from and what it resulted in, you could see news stories in Maine about how a school that held sports ended up killing members of its community due to that decision.

Public workers are being forced to make calls that are beyond the level of responsibility they signed up for. A doctor might expect to have to make life or death decisions. A pastor or a superintendent? Not so much. Sure, any one of us might be thrust into an emergency situation where lives are on the line, but this is different than that. These are decisions you know about ahead of time, and where your judgement will be directly responsible for the outcomes. The preacher who married the couple in Millinocket has been unrepentant. It baffles me that someone could take that stance in light of what happened, but it is what it is. I don’t think a superintendent would have quite the same leeway.

I want my kids to have a great school experience. I want them to be able to be in school plays or go to school dances or perform in school music groups. But while we’re stuck with COVID (due to the gross negligence on the way the pandemic was handled in this country), this is the hand we’ve been dealt. I’m going to still try to do things to help my kids have fun, but it’s going to have to be different than it would have been if we’d handled this better. (Though that said, it appears other countries are having resurgences as well. Maybe their good actions just bought themselves a breather, not a solution. Time will tell. But a breather would have been lovely . . .)

Am I 100% happy with the school board’s decision? No. But there’s no decision they could have made that would have resulted in everyone being happy. They have to make the best they can with what they’ve been given, just like the rest of us. Maybe something will change in the future to make it possible to reevaluate the status quo. For now, we carry on.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

First Day of School, COVID Style

It’s a week later than we would have been having the kids go back to school, but they’re officially started now. It’s crazy to think about everything that’s happened since their school went on a planned two week “pause” back in March. That two weeks turned into the rest of the year, and the summer is gone by now as well. I’m grateful to be living in a part of the country where there are still low numbers. (6 active cases in my county at the moment. 53 total since this started, with 1 death. Our population in 2010 was just over 30,000. On the New York Times tracker, that puts us at .6 cases per 100,000.)

Tomas (11th grade) will be going to school in person every Monday and Tuesday. The other three days of the week, he’ll be attending all his classes synchronously (Wednesday and Thursday are for the second half of the alphabet to go in person, and Friday everyone is virtual). MC (2nd grade) and Daniela (7th grade) will be going in person every other day. The days they’re not there in person, they’ll be working on their studies asynchronously. For now, there are no after school activities, although sports is still up in the air. (For the record, I will be disappointed if football is allowed to proceed but things like music and drama are not. If they can make sports work, they can make other activities work. I believe solutions could be found.)

I have no idea how this will all work in practice. I believe our school district has gotten grant money that should pay for laptops for all kids from 7th grade up. It should be . . . interesting to see how each class handles the different constraints. I try to be as good of a support structure for my kids as I can, but we’re heading into uncharted waters now. Who knows how it will all shake out.

But really, I’m happy to have some semblance of normalcy returning to our lives, even if it’s also in many ways unsettling. We’ve all been home together for so long that it felt very strange to think we’d all be heading different ways today. (Ferris, our puppy extraordinaire, is not happy with the change. I’m working at home today, and I finally had to put him in his crate. There’s only so much attention I can give a puppy and still get work done. We’ll have to see how that goes too . . .)

Anyway. That’s all I have time for today, but here’s hoping this is the start of a successful school year, even if it will be very different.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Shouting a Lie Doesn’t Make It Less False

The school budget vote is coming up on Tuesday, which means (you guessed it) the “Vote No” crowd has broken the glass on their “In Case of Emergency” boxes and removed their pitchforks and torches. You can’t drive around town without seeing their signs along the side of the road.

This, despite the fact that the school budget this year has reduced the local tax burden by 1.69 percent.

Honestly, there are times I think the “Vote No” crowd would not be satisfied until the school district is earning a surplus and paying them to send kids to school. I know it’s not the most charitable thought, and I know there are some of them who must have very heartfelt (if possibly misguided) reasons for what they believe, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and I have little patience for people trying to make a big deal about a budget decrease, painting it like an increase instead.

Except that seems to be a growing trend, especially at the highest echelons of government. If you just state a lie with authority and confidence, there are people who will believe that lie in the face of all contrary evidence. Whether it’s the crowd size at an inauguration (which doesn’t really matter) or the trend of COVID-19 in the country (which very much does). All you have to do, it seems, is give people something they can believe in. An “authority” to point to. It works for pretty much anything you want it to: climate change, flat earthers, anti-vaccination, conspiracy theorists, and more.

Entire industries have been built around this propensity of people to believe what they want to believe, and to look for evidence that will support that belief, no matter how tenuous. Yes, you could say the same thing about religion, but the whole basis of religion is outside the realm of simple facts. It requires faith and belief in God, a being whose existence can’t be proven one way or another. And in many ways, people who buy these blatant lies and choose to believe them are putting the people who spout them up on a similar god-like pedestal.

But I don’t want to get into that. For today, I just want to focus on how this is impacting our schools on a local level. I’ll worry about the rest of the mess after Tuesday, once the school budget has passed. If you’re local, please remember to vote on Tuesday July 14th. You can still request absentee ballots until Thursday July 9th at 5pm. After that, you have to vote in person. This is a reasonable budget, regardless of how many signs out there want to say it isn’t. Forcing the community to go through another round of budget meetings out of spite seems like the worst justification for a misleading campaign I can think of.

Let’s vote this budget through on the first time. Vote yes!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Once More to the School Board Budget Breach

On Tuesday evening, our school board budget committee met to continue discussions for next year’s budget. And sure as the night follows day, the comment section in the local online paper went straight for the torches and pitchforks. (I imagine they each have a large glass case with a pitchfork next to their computer, boldly emblazoned in red with “IN CASE OF SCHOOL BUDGET BREAK GLASS.”)

It’s really important each year that we not let the comments section of The Daily Bulldog set the tone for our school budget debate. It’s too easy to shift the footing into areas that stop making sense. The knee-jerk objection this year is to the bottom line increase: $1.35 million.

I get it. That’s a lot of money, especially right now in these uncertain economic times. Granted, it’s only a 3.64% increase compared to last year’s budget, but the standard rate of inflation last year was around 2.2%, which means this does, indeed, raise the bottom line.

However, for those hardy souls willing to read beyond the third paragraph of the article, it’s quickly apparent that there’s more to this budget than the bottom line. (As is always the case.) Since the debate inevitably shifts to “This costs the local people more money,” let’s look at what the proposed budget would do to the actual local expenses.

On the whole, it would increase them by .45% (including Adult Education).

Of course, the way the overall cost is distributed throughout all the towns is dependent on a number of other factors, so the actual impact to each resident of different towns would be different. It’s listed in the article in paragraph form, but I’ll break it out into bullet points for clarity:

  • Chesterville: 2.39% decrease
  • Farmington: 1.46% decrease
  • Industry: 2.64%
  • New Sharon: 2.11%
  • New Vineyard: 3.51%
  • Starks: 6.88%
  • Temple: 0.98%
  • Vienna: 2.13%
  • Weld: 3.42% decrease
  • Wilton: 1.72%

(Note that the article in the Bulldog gets a bit muddled. I’m taking this directly from the school board budget presentation.)

Now, you could certainly debate how the costs are shared out among the different towns. I don’t know how that’s calculated, and I am not an accountant. (I believe it all comes down to overall town valuations and how they each compare to each other, but someone better in the know would have to speak to that.) But the bottom line is that over the past five years, the school budget has increased an average of .55% per year in terms of its cost to locals. (That includes this year.)

What’s more, it’s clear from the article that there are still areas that are up in the air: a $2-$2.5 million surplus from this year due to to the school shutdown, possible additional federal funds of $600,000, and discussion of the Success & Innovation Center’s funding.

But if you look at those comments, the school board might as well have proposed plating the toilets in the high school in solid gold. Most of the increase is being covered by the state. Don’t punish your local school district because you’re upset about state-level requirements and issues. Take that up with the state.

In last year’s vote, New Vineyard and Chesterville were the two towns to vote against the budget. (It passed with 909 yes votes and 445 nos.) Starks, which to my memory always sees the biggest increase year after year, approved it 50 to 5. Why? Because Starks tried to go it alone for a bit, and they realize the value of a solid school system.

These increases are far from egregious. For reference, New Sharon approved a 3.6% increase for its town budget at their annual town meeting this year. Farmington’s proposed increase was 6.2% before the world went into a tailspin. I’m not sure if it was voted through or not. I list those two examples just to show that the people who are going for the pitchforks for the school budget don’t seem to have the same passion about other areas of local taxes. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think they should. I haven’t seen anyone around me lining their pockets at the expense of tax payers. I think we live in a frugal spot of the country and the state. But that’s not what the budget hawks would have the populace believe when it comes to the school.

So when this comes up online or in your social circles, don’t let that $1.35 million increase go unchallenged. Does that mean this budget should go through as-is? No. It’s still being discussed, and it isn’t set in stone yet. If people continue to have concerns about specific line items (increased positions, or decreased positions for that matter), they should email their school board members or the superintendent.

But let’s put the pitchforks down for now.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

School Students Shouldn’t Be a Revenue Stream

I get it. There’s money to be made in high schools and grade schools. Between school pictures, sports pictures, yearbooks, and the like, I understand there are businesses that crop up surrounding our students, and I don’t (for the most part) begrudge them the chance to carry on their business, or at least make it available. But this year, something seems different to me.

It started with the early request to buy athlete pictures for Tomas and DC. No big deal. Seemed like a fine request, so we ordered a package for each of them. Then came the reminder for school pictures. I ignored that one, because Denisa and I decided to get private pictures done this year for all the kids. It was less expensive, and the end result was much better, so it was kind of a no-brainer for us.

I deleted the first reminder. The second reminder. The third reminder. I’ve got three kids, each of them in different schools. I didn’t pay too much attention to which school was reminding me about what. Except the reminders kept coming. And coming.

I just went through my email to check. I’ve received TWELVE reminders since August 25th. That’s four reminders per child. That’s . . . beyond excessive. And then that email search reminded me that I was asked to buy “spring portraits” last March. How many class pictures does one child need? And did I really need to be reminded I could buy those spring portraits nine times? Five of the emails this fall have been from my children’s actual schools. (Seven from the company taking the pictures.) Two of the nine reminders came from the schools in spring.

But it isn’t just pictures. Yesterday Tomas came home with a big packet advertising class rings (the cheapest of which starts at $200). Apparently in the middle of school, they were sat down for an ad pitch from the ring company, in which the company said, “All you’ll need to do is go home and even mention class rings to your parents, and you can watch as they run and get their class ring and start telling you all about it, and that’s when you should ask them for the $75 deposit so you can get yours.”

I never bought a class ring. I think they look gaudy and dated. Tomas has no interest in getting one, but I recognize they’re something that might be desirable to some. I get that my personal distaste for them might not be shared by all. If the company wants to send home a flyer about class rings, fine. If they want to send home a half-inch thick packer all about it, I might say that’s a wasteful use of resources, but it probably wouldn’t get me to “I need to write a blog post about this” territory.

But taking up my child’s school time (or even a break during school time) to pitch them on sales techniques to get their parents to buy them a $200+ piece of silver or gold? That went beyond the line for me. At that point, I have to assume the school district is getting a kickback on the rings. (They better be, for the sort of access they’re giving to my child.) Even then, I find it objectionable.

I don’t live in a wealthy area. The median household income in Franklin County is around $45,000. (The median for the US is about $59,000.) There are many, many families who can’t afford a $200+ ring. Why is our school district letting companies market directly to our students this way? Yes, I get that budgets are tight. And again, I realize some kids or parents might really want a ring. But still, send a flyer home. Let students opt-in to hear the ad spiel. Anything other than the approach that’s currently being used.

There are times I feel like the district has started seeing me more as a revenue source and less as a parent of a student.

Am I the only one noticing this?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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