Sunday, February 27, 2011

Local Memory

With the news from Wisconsin, and the rhetoric making the rounds, about those dastardly unions and their supposedly unreasonable demands (even as they concede every immediate monetary request that has been made of them and their one remaining insistence is to retain collective bargaining rights) I can't help but think back to last year in our own home town. Last year Holliston faced its own budget shortfall. Revenues lagged and selectmen and the fin com had gone to every department asking for cuts. The simple accounting on those cuts showed many of us in the town something we didn't want to see. Teacher layoffs and more crowded classrooms, shutdowns for many extracurricular student clubs and activities, maybe a few more fees for those that remained, tight belts tighter for Police and Fire, the Library would have lost its children's librarian. Yet there was no appetite for an override, so we were informed by our elected officials. These cuts were the bitter medicine, we were told, we might as well swallow.

That's not what happened though. By petition citizens of the town made sure an override option was placed on the ballot for town meeting, town departments were asked to prepare budget plans that would address the possibilities should the additional funds be voted in. It was recognized up front that funding wouldn't save the jobs or preserve the level of service in Holliston Schools. Holliston teachers chose to step forward and offered to accept furloughs to protect classroom positions and the level of service to the schools.

There was robust debate at town meeting (I posted on the subject last year). Strongly held views were voiced on both sides of the question. The measure to place the override option on the town election ballot passed and then the override itself was passed narrowly by town voters.

I guess it just strikes me as useful example, as we now watch the talking points on collective bargaining devolve towards the ugly caricature, the way Holliston teachers played a constructive role, through their action. Taken in at the level of local understanding, you can see how Holliston Teachers acting —dare I say it—collectively— met the common community need, by meeting the town halfway in the resolution of the budget. Teachers sacrificed their own pay in an appeal to preserve teacher and staff positions —to preserve a level of service to students.

We can disagree among ourselves about the decision we made last year about Holliston's budget. I'm sure some still do. We could face a similar situation again and come away with a different answer. But shouldn't we be glad of the opportunity we took to decide? Shouldn't we protect the place at the table of even those we might disagree with whenever it comes round to decide again?

That's the thing about a town like ours. It's just a little harder to paint the picture of public unions as populated by spoiled public teat suckers protecting parasitic dead enders and wrong and wasteful practices —when what you've seen are the teachers, the ones you know have meant a lot to your own child's education, working together to protect the level of quality and service in our schools —and you have that sense that your own child, prepared with that education, just might make the future a better one.

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