Sunday, February 23, 2014

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” ― Dr. Seuss

This post sort of crosses over into my career, but it is a big part of who I am and effects my family, but is very much MY opinion and not a tip for reading and technology tips like my other blog.  So I am choosing to post it here.

I have recently been involved in some meetings at my daughters' school about putting the PPEL fund back in place to help fund a 1:1 technology initiative and have money available for building and transportation fixes and updates. It made me remember how riled up people get when you start talking about raising taxes to fund education. The technology committee at the school had an awesome Prezi to explain why 1:1 technology would benefit our students and I don't think anyone at the meeting disagreed with the fact that technology is important, but the meeting was soon overrun by questions about raising taxes and what exactly would happen with the money from the tax increase. I have to say the superintendent really held his own and explained how the students would benefit from all of this.

I have to give him a hand because I was involved in a budget cut at another district after an across the board cut from the state level. The administration presented the information and the school board voted to approve the cuts at a meeting on a night school was closed because of the weather and answers were never given on how decisions were made on the positions to cut. I understand that no one likes a tax increase or will agree with which positions a school could do without, but at least when the information is presented to you an informed decision or understanding can be made. It is already a blow when you hear a position you love, believe in, and work hard everyday to be the best for students is going to be eliminated because the money just isn't there, but to have it happen without what seemed like a second thought was even worse. There was never even a discussion about what else could have possibly been done to help save some or all of the positions. It was like an extra kick in the butt.

I also will never understand the complexity behind school budgeting, which is why I have no desire to be a school administrator or politician. What I do understand is my previous students are missing out on a quality education because they now have to share their librarian with the elementary school so she is only in each building part time. And it wasn't just the library that was affected. They also have to share their art, music, FCS, and PE teachers with other buildings. And I recently learned there was a drastic drop in enrollment for the year so the district must figure out how to save for next year which could mean not replacing some positions through attrition or cutting some more positions. And it is not just my previous district, my current district has one teacher-librarian for three buildings, no elementary art teacher, shares a music teacher across elementaries and I am sure their are more, but I have only been employed two months (but am an alumni) so I am still becoming reaquainted with the district. At my girls' district the PPEL vote did not pass, so it will be interesting to see what the superintendent has to say at his advisory board meeting this week about what might have to go to help fund any facility maintenance that may occur.

One of the most powerful hours on television I have ever seen was the episode of Boston Public when the principal was faced with severe budget cuts, he decided to cut all sports from the school budget so he could save the teaching positions in his school.  (I have tried to find the scene online, but have been unsuccessful.) What a concept! After all isn't school to educate our students? How many students leave our public schools and become professional athletes? I am sure I will be unpopular for having this opinion and please do not think I was not an athlete. I participated in sports in middle and high school and learned some very valuable life lessons from my golf coach, but school was not started to give children a chance to play sports. Sports were added to give students something else to go to school for and a way to help schools make money. If you think about it they are sort of a bribe. Because in order to play sports you must keep your grades up and for some students that is all that keeps them coming to school. But should that really be the reason we are education students, so they can compete in sports? Shouldn't we be educating them so they are prepared for life after public education? I will also argue the fact that kids these days have many more opportunities than when sports at school were the only option. And if you really want to excel in a sport you are going to play in a club version of the sport in the off season for more practice. You can argue that club sports cost money so they are not available to ALL students like school sports so it is not fair to make those the only option. Well then I have two questions - why are we making them so expensive and are the students not playing club sports getting as much opportunity in school sports? Think about it - what if we took those club sports and made them less expensive and available to all kids who wanted to learn. What if schools provided the place for them to do that but did not fund them? They are already letting club sports use their gyms and fields so why not have them be the ones funding and paying for the coaches? Why are we using education funding to pay coaches? I will tell you why - because if you have a good sports team you can attract students and if you have more students you get more funding! This is also why schools use bond money to have huge gymnasiums for hosting events. They can also bring money into the school by doing this, but where does that money go - to fund more athletics or to education of students - this I can not answer for sure because I am sure it is part of that mystery 'other' fund I have been told about often when asking questions about school finance.

I do NOT want to be one of those people who just complains about something - I want to make education better - I want to DO something, but I can NOT get a straight answer from anyone on what can be done....

The 'tail' end - what do you think schools, parents, and educators should do to make sure we are providing the best education for our students?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A simple fact that is hard to learn is that the time to save money is when you have some. - Joe Moore

Another holiday season has come and gone and another month of comments from my husband about my spending habits has started. I will be the first to admit that I am terrible when it comes to worrying about money. It is not something I really thought about growing up. I started babysitting when I was 10 or 11 and I had my first part-time job when I was 13, so I understand that work equals money, but I never really worried if I had money or did not. Some people have said I was spoiled because most of the time when I asked for something growing up I got it. And some said my parents were 'rich' because we lived in a new house, drove nice cars, had name brand clothes, and took vacations to Disney World and cruises to the Virgin Islands. I knew those things did not just happen, my dad spent most of my childhood on the road building carwashes and my mom worked 80+ hours a week (yes I said in one week) to give us those nice things. And I heard my share of arguments about money - especially when April rolled around and taxes were being done. But still I never really 'worried' that we would not have enough money to do things. My parents always just made it happen. Like I said, I worked for extra money and I balanced my checkbook every month and made sure I paid for things I wanted so I knew what it meant to not spend more than you had.

But, I still remember when my husband and I went to pre-marriage classes with the pastor and took the compatibility survey that money was one of the areas we were furthest apart on. He is very interested in making sure he knows where the money goes, what we are spending it on, and that we have money saved in case something comes up - which is sort of funny to me since when I met him he never balanced his check book and when I tried to do it for him it was like $200+ off... I, like I have said, don't really worry about it. As long as I can pay my bills then it is okay. I never really think about saving and the future because money will keep coming in right? We both had jobs so it was okay. 

Even when my husband decided he needed to quit his good paying job in town as an electrician to take over the family farm we still did okay. We made it work. Every year at holiday and tax time I got comments about my spending and credit card debt so I started a Christmas Club account to hopefully help with that.

Then the postpartum depression hit hard and I needed a break from my job. As I told you I never really worried about money, so I did not really think anything of the pay cut I would take to work part time for my dad and be home more with the girls and focus on my health. I was slightly freaked out when after six months my dad told me he really could not afford to pay me and my family health insurance so one was going to have to give. It ended up being the push I needed to get back into education and ultimately led me to the position I am in now, but I am not going to lie - it has been rough moneywise. My husband thinks I don't understand because if I did I would just stop spending money and we would be fine. But I am a sucker when I find a 'good' deal and I tend to go a little overboard with gifts at Christmas so the combination does tend to get me in trouble around the holidays and we spend the rest of the next year making up for it just to have the cycle happen again. 

I want it to stop and I have found an app on my phone to do this, but I am a little overwhelmed at getting started. I know I can do it - I was the only student in my class to take Advanced Accounting so I know all about checks and balances and inputing it into the computer. But right now it looks really bad because I haven't had a 'real' paycheck since I stopped working at school. And even though my dad paid me more then he should have, I have only had a few hundred dollar paychecks each month from the schools I was subbing at since September so I am not going to lie that all of the months are in the negative on my budget and graph on the website and the amount of money in our checking account just keeps going down. 

I do have to say though that January is always a tough month for us as we pay an 'estimate' on what we believe our taxes will cost us based on the previous year. You see when you are a farmer tax 'return' is not in your vocabulary.... And looking at the neat pie chart from the website from last month, the biggest chunk of the pie is for taxes. But all my husband sees are the packages that show up from a deal I found online of something I do not 'need.' 

I will admit that I am far from perfect and I am sure I buy things that I do not need. But I also spent a majority of the last year and a half in a stupor of self pity and I am sure if you look back my spending was probably half of what I normally spend. There were times when my husband did the shopping because the thought of leaving the house was too much to handle. I am sure I probably made up for it during the holidays this year, but I sort of felt like I had my life back and I wanted to embrace it to the fullest. I know I made some impulse buys and should not spend as much, but a wise woman has told me, you can't take it with you when you go...But hopefully that will not be anytime soon, so I need to do better. 

I am going to try hard to change. I think it is my late resolution for 2014. I hope I can make it happen! 

The 'tail' end - do you make sure you are saving money for the future and stay on a budget?
 - If yes - how do you do it - If no - why not?