Thursday, March 27, 2008

What Not to Do During a Recession

I recently read an interesting article over at MassInc (unfortunately, I don't have a direct link to the article anymore) detailing basically what not to do during a recession. Basically, everything that was in that article was summed up by the actions of the Boston Public School system.
Dealing with her first budget since she arrived in August, Superintendent Carol Johnson said she also has identified $18.7 million in cuts, mostly by reducing central office staff, deferring maintenance on school buildings, installing energy-saving software on computers, and limiting the number of teachers and principals who go through training programs.... She will reduce stipends for teacher development, cut the number of math and reading coaches, and eliminate the jobs of 10 social workers that were previously funded by grants that had expired.
First off, deferring maintenance isn't a cost saver, it'll actually cost the city of Boston a pretty mint in the long run. The problems with infrastructure will get worse, and more expensive, and meanwhile the city's children will actually have to spend 7 and a half hours in those buildings. Worse yet is limiting training, which will directly effect the quality of education students are getting in the city. Now, maybe some of those cuts can be made to central office staff, but after all these years of cuts it can probably be doubted. Furthermore, all those now unemployed people aren't exactly going to be contributing to ending this recession. They'll probably just be happy to find a new job, never mind one that pays as well or offers the same kind of benefits.

Making matters worse, things aren't looking up for next year.
Officials said the bailout defers difficult choices, including school closings, until next year. Johnson said that a handful of schools, which have not been decided on, would probably be closed because of enrollment declines.
Enrollments go up and down; once a municipality closes a building, it closes their ability to actually deal with those fluctuations. Furthermore, it's tough to close entire schools down without increasing class sizes at all the other schools. Large class sizes are especially bad for elementary-aged children, who do better throughout their academic careers if they had the benefit of small class sizes when they were young.

Of course, not all is bad - but the shocking thing is how far out of budget the city is, when it's adding in $10 million as an emergency bailout and is increasing this year's budget by 5.7%. With nearly a 6% increase in spending, the city is still facing $18.7 million in cuts. This state, and this country, has got to do something about the rapidly rising costs of health care and energy if we're going to survive as a proud, successful nation - because we're on a tightrope and we're losing balance. Most importantly, we have to figure out some kind of way to avoid cutting core services, because that's just shooting ourselves in our own feet, doing our best so we'll never be able to recover from the recession, or avoid new ones in the future.

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