Monday, January 12, 2009

As Education Takes Hits, Localities Must Adapt

This past week, a flood of stories described impending layoffs at school systems in the region--this one is an overview of what's coming throughout the Roanoke/Southside area.

Locally, City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner announced job cuts, then the County schools announced early-retirement incentives to eliminate jobs by attrition. The same thing is occurring all over the commonwealth due to state budget cuts, but the impact will likely be especially harsh here. For instance, both local systems plan to cut the number of teachers by double digits, which will increase class sizes and reduce the number of programs that can be offered, thus putting our education system further behind the rest of the state.

Given the constant stream of news like this, I'm going to take a stand that not everyone will like and for which I will probably be very heavily criticized. At the risk of embroiling myself in a local debate, I think that it is becoming more and more imperative for the Martinsville and Henry County school systems to merge and operate as one system. We have been losing population for over a decade and that trend shows no sign of abating. As population leaves, enrollment in both systems drops along with the tax base--simple economics dictate that sooner or later we won't have a choice, so we might as well start the process now while we still have some control over the situation. I think city-county infighting is a luxury we can no longer afford, and it is holding back our teachers as well as our students, who simply do not have the same resources at their disposal as wealthier parts of the state. 

Not even a merger will completely solve these problems, but at least a unified school system will allow every student in Martinsville and Henry County to have the best shot we can afford to give them with our combined resources, instead of dividing ourselves and competing over state and federal funding. As the Kizner article notes, some vocational courses will have to be cut--one of the worst possible outcomes in an area that aspires to have a resurgent manufacturing base with a competitive, well-trained work force. Such cuts will become more common in both school systems, and the whole area will be even worse off--the recession does not distinguish between Bengals, Bulldogs, and Warriors, and it is high time we left our rivalries on the field or in the gym where they belong. Who knows, maybe merging the school systems will open doors to further cooperation. I'm not advocating that the city revert to a town or even that all students attend one high school, but I am saying a united front could only help our area back on its feet, and certainly couldn't hurt. 

1 comment:

Doug said...

More and more, as much as I really don't want to, I'm starting to agree with you on this. I know it would create a very messy power struggle, but it could end a lot of duplication of effort. The real question is whether or not it would improve the quality of education in M-HC. If it allows more options, smaller classes, re-introduction of more electives (band, art, vocational), then it does improve the quality of education. I guess that's a pretty big 'if'. It certainly needs some discussion and investigation, though.