As I reflect upon my first three short weeks as superintendent of the Watervliet City School District, the first thing that comes to mind is that not all communities are created equal. I am quickly discovering the real inequalities plaguing education.
As building principal of Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School for the past seven years, I was visible. I held students, staff, teachers, administrators, and myself accountable for student achievement. None of that has changed. What has changed is the realization of having to do more with less.
The fiscal crisis facing small city and urban school districts today, with the new property tax levy cap and greater numbers of unfunded mandates, along with the increased level of accountability for teachers and administrators is daunting. I am doing all I can to remain fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of the City of Watervliet while providing our students with the rigorous and relevant education that they are entitled to, delivered by highly qualified teachers.
“Tightening our belts” is an understatement. The inequitable distribution of state aid to needy schools is a puzzle I cannot seem to put together. I do not understand the justification of holding and/or cutting funds to schools that are already “in need.” Granted, money does not buy an education. However, if something is a mandate that cost money and a district greatly depends on state aid to fund mandates, when the money is not appropriated, how is a school district supposed to meet an unfunded mandate? Maybe I don’t know the answer to that question because I’m still green—or maybe it’s just a rhetorical question. Either way, the lack of state aid to low-income school districts will only perpetuate the ever-growing achievement gap between the schools that “have” and the schools that “have not.”
It saddens me that students in needier districts may not be afforded the same educational opportunities students from more affluent districts are, simply because of their zip code. I find it difficult to look into the eyes of students who are in Advanced Placement classes or College in the High School courses, knowing that next year—and in years to follow—there is a strong possibility we will not have the funds to offer these accelerated programs.
It is concerning to me that this community may end up divided over students with special needs receiving costly services they are entitled to under state and federal mandates while mainstream students are denied programs. Cuts have to come from somewhere. And the reality is, there is no money flowing from anywhere. Highly qualified teachers—some of whom are Nationally Board Certified—administrators and support staff who have “fire in their bellies” and a passion for teaching and learning stand to lose their jobs because, now that we have cut away all of the “fat,” we’re left with nothing to cut but people and programs.
I am honored to lead the Watervliet City School District, even in these tough economic times, and I take my responsibilities extremely seriously. I believe it is my duty to ensure that every child in this district has the same opportunities other students in wealthier districts have. I will exhaust all possibilities and opportunities to help level the playing field and fight for the students in this district, because they all deserve a top-notch education, complete with 21st-century technology that will prepare them with the skills they need to be college- and career-ready. My fight has only just begun!