Fear tactics and finding solutions

Published 8:10 pm Monday, September 22, 2003

By Staff
Conecuh County has threatened to shut down its school system. The Escambia County system is looking at the elimination of extracurricular programs. The Brewton City School system is preparing to dip into local funds to purchase much needed textbooks and other supplies.
School leaders threatened that these measures would become a reality if Amendment One did not pass, and in the days since Gov. Bob Riley presented a budget to the state legislature, it appears that many of them will.
Some legislators, though, are accusing the schools of "crying wolf" rather working toward solutions. A question that is being asked repeatedly at state buget hearings over the past week is, "what do you need to survive?"
The answer, he says, has often been less than half of what the group has received in the past. When it comes to an agency that is facing extinction, and when its very survival is on the line, a reduction of 50 percent can seem like a blessing. Without a doubt, many agencies and groups could survive on less than they receive now, just as families are sometimes forced to do. Businesses in the private sector often go through layoffs and drastic expense cuts in order to keep the doors open.
Inevitably, though, the result is that the product suffers, and a vicious downward spiral begins. As quality goes down, customers tend to look for other options with their purchasing dollars. The loss of revenue quickly outpaces the cuts in spending and the ultimate result is closure.
In a sense, government is the same, although in many ways it is different. Schools can cut teachers and double up on the amount of students per classroom. Schools can cut extracurricular activities (and we're not just talking about football) which means students lose the opportunity to gain a well-rounded education. Rural fire departments can cut back on equipment repair and send fire fighters into dangerous situations. Prisons can release convicted felons back into the population in order to save the money it would cost to house them.
Many legislators, and a majority of voters in this state, felt like the schools and other government agencies were crying wolf when it came to funding needs in the coming years. As the budget is finalized in the coming days, and the schools get a grasp on the impact of the new budget, we'll see if the threats were real. Given what has been proposed by the governor, we will soon find out.