Need vs. Want

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 6, 2003

Whether balancing the family's budget or the nation's, a balance must be found between expedience and necessity.

Want and need. In Gov. Bob Riley's State of the State address Tuesday night, he addressed the issues of education, and that balance seems very shaky indeed. On the one hand, Riley tells us of 2000 teachers who will be out of work after this spring - and another 3200 who might be. Harsh cuts in the extracurricular and non-core courses are possible - even probable. These cuts may be needed as we face a $500 million deficit.

And yet, Riley says in the same speech that he wanted Alabama children to have a "world-class"education.

At the rate we are losing teachers and programs, that may well be a third-world class education.

He stated he does not want to discuss raising taxes or adding taxes, and yet, it seems we may eventually need to.

Trying to save the foundering ship of state requires more than bailing out the boat - the leaks must be plugged. His reference to the "bloat" of bureaucracy was apropos - it does seem at times that the school systems are top-heavy with administrative personnel, when more teachers are needed in the classrooms. Perhaps, if he does succeed in redirecting the funds earmarked for education to the actual schools and school children, he can offer that "world class education," even with fewer teachers.

What Riley is proposing is a long-view sort of thing. Yes, we have to cut back now, while we get the problem under control. Once the initial crisis is over, the causes can be determined and dealt with. That will free up funds and faculty, allowing the state to focus more on developing that world class curriculum. Riley is trying to see beyond the immediate and into the future.

Perhaps we should do the same. Perhaps it is time to consider thinking beyond city limits, or even county lines, and think of the overall welfare of the state for a change. The way the school system is currently set up, children are kept within their own county lines, so that a child at one end of the county might have to ride a school bus for more than an hour to school, when there is another school ten minutes away – in the next county.

We should look at the districitng plans in Florida and Louisiana, where children attend the nearest school regardelss of county lines. As Riley has suggested in all areas of government, we should look at eliminating any waste and duplication.

Of course, unlike many government workers, a lot of Alabama's school teachers

are already performing double duty, working in after school programs, as tutors, or as coaches. On the classroom side of the school issue, there is simply no more fat to be trimmed.