Time to Take Action

I have always been fascinated by the actions of people (and institutions) when faced with difficult circumstances. The current economic crisis is one of those events that is bringing out the very best in people — and the very worst. Reactions are running the gamut — some spending their energy being innovative and proactively seeking solutions, others spending their energy pointing fingers and laying blame.

I have my own opinions about the predicament we find ourselves in, a view that is not necessarily shared by others. Some nameless person on Wall St. didn’t cause this crisis, we did. We have lost the ability to separate “want” from “need.” We have come to expect/demand higher salaries, shorter workdays, bigger houses, and gas-guzzling cars. Too many of us have raised our kids with a feeling of entitlement – refusing to work many of the service jobs in this county because it is beneath them, having not only their own room, but their own car (and we pay for the gas and insurance). We’ve forgotten the message our parents taught us “don’t buy what you can’t pay for.” The question is no longer “how much does it cost” but “what kind of monthly payments can you afford.” Our house is no longer a home, it’s an investment. All of these factors feed unrealistic expectations and a willingness by many to “do whatever it takes” (ethical or not) to get what they think they deserve.

It’s time we take an honest look at the factors that got us to this point. But in the meantime, we need to stop pointing fingers and start taking action. I had high hopes for the economic stimulus package, but as of this writing I’m not all that confident it will give us what we need.

Many school districts are developing their own survival plans. Some are good, some shortsighted. In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Governor Ed Rendell "wants to slash the number of school districts statewide, eliminating about 400 of the current 501 Pennsylvania public school systems" in an effort to reduce administrative costs. Some school districts are voting against pay increases for senior staffers, eliminating jobs, or asking employees to defer payment of some workdays. Others are increasing class sizes, cutting programs, and reducing instructional materials and consumable supplies. On the facilities front, thermostats are being lowered, maintenance is being deferred, and construction programs delayed. As you can see in the 2008 School Construction Report on page CR1, $19.5B worth of school construction was completed in 2008, a drop of $1.2B from the year before.

Crisis? Yes. Opportunity? YES. It is human nature to find comfort in the status quo, and that is where we have settled in — doing the same thing without regard to the potential outcome, looking for the next “get rich quick” scheme, blaming someone else for all of our problems, and waiting for someone else to solve them. Hints of what was to come weren’t enough, so just maybe this is the wakeup call we needed to help us identify what is really important at school, at home, and in life, giving us a second chance to do things right.

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