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A failing grade

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News last week out of General Brown Central School District in Dexter gave a chilling glimpse of things to come in public education.

Tina M. Heckman, principal of the high school, sent a letter home to parents and guardians Aug. 26 announcing that the school would not be able to offer physics this year. The letter explained that the school could no longer afford to employ a full-time physics teacher, and this position had to be reduced to part time. But efforts to recruit a part-time physics teacher by the beginning of last week proved unsuccessful, so officials concluded they had no choice but to eliminate this subject from the school curriculum.

This meant that about 50 students attending the high school would need to substitute this course with another science class by today, when classes begin for the new academic year. The problem with this is that at least some of the students most likely have taken the other science courses being offered, so they would be left with no alternative.

“Due to fiscal challenges, one of the positions reduced to half time for the upcoming school year was a physics teaching position,” Mrs. Heckman said Aug. 27. “Due to a resignation, a half-time physics position opened over the summer. Several steps were taken to recruit a certified and qualified physics teacher. Unfortunately, those actions brought forth no qualified and/or certified candidates, and physics will not be offered during the 2013-14 school year at General Brown High School.”

As of Friday, a part-time physics teacher had still not been hired for the high school and the position will remain vacant. And this appears to be merely the tip of the iceberg for General Brown.

“The school district has faced fiscal insolvency by 2015 if finances do not improve,” according to an article in Thursday’s issue of the Watertown Daily Times. “During the 2013-14 budget planning process, the budget was reduced by about $1 million. Many positions were reduced to half time so the district was able to continue offering multiple classes.”

For years, school districts across the country have had to cut extracurricular activities to reduce their budgets due to dwindling revenues. These include sports, music and arts programs. The notion that General Brown High School must now abandon physics is frightening.

Educational authorities in the north country often speak of the pending problem of educational bankruptcy. This would occur if a district’s programs are cut to the point where students face the prospect of not being able to earn a Regents diploma.

We’re now seeing this nightmare actually play itself out before our eyes. How can we even consider sending our high school students off to college without the possibility of studying physics?

School district officials, elected representatives and community leaders must address the financial crisis being faced in public education. One of the proposals discussed has been to consolidate educational resources and set up regional high schools, but members of the state legislature failed to push through the necessary enabling legislation.

We are failing our children by not offering them the basics for a sound education. Continuing to delay action will bring about the catastrophe we have all feared and knew we could have prevented. Let’s not sit on our hands and allow our children to move into adulthood so ill-prepared.

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