Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Compromise schrompromise!

It's nice to have an iPhone. It's an unnecessary luxury in my life! Today while I showed my daughter, niece and MIL around Manhattan I was able to keep in touch with the real world.

It was a wonderful day! We started at Jekyll and Hydes, took some pictures with half-naked models at Abercrombie & Fitch, took the subway to Chinatown - after a quick stop to watch the street gymnasts in the southern part of Central Park - from Chinatown we walked through Soho to the Village. We took the subway again from 14th street (after lots of window and a little real shopping, a cafe stop and more street theater at NYU) up to Times Square, then walked to the car at 49th St and 10th Ave. It was a great day!!!

Somewhere near Canal Street and Broadway I checked my phone and found this in my in-box about the BREA-BOE compromise. Once I got home I also read this.

Miriam Webster defines a compromise as:
Main Entry: 1com·pro·mise
Pronunciation: \ˈkäm-prə-ˌmīz\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, mutual promise to abide by an arbiter's decision, from Anglo-French compromisse, from Latin compromissum, from neuter of compromissus, past participle of compromittere to promise mutually, from com- + promittere to promise — more at promise
Date: 15th century
1 a : settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions b : something intermediate between or blending qualities of two different things
2 : a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday - prep the ark....

I actually believe in Noah's story for the first time in my life!

Two weeks ago we ventured into NYC, SM, TM, N and I - another family plus BM joined us. It was definitely the worst NYC trip I'd had in years. We spent the day wet: either from walking a few blocks in the down-pouring rain (who knew the rain could blow sideways with all those skyscrapers to protect you?!). The "fun" went beyond our perpetual state of dampness: One child ended up in the ER- the parents thought it was appendicitis, but it was only a belly ache. MoMA was more crowded than I'd ever seen it! It took 1/2 an hour to get tickets... but my friend found a condom on the floor!!! The kids loved the Tim Burton exhibition but I'll admit I still didn't totally get the artist is "present" Marina Abromovic. I used to know several performance artists, and I enjoy performance art, but this wasn't quite for me... there is only so long I can watch two people stare into each others' eyes and try to see how they are being present.

Mars 2112 was OK - but I'm guessing I won't be going many more times since the kids are getting a bit too big for it.  I didn't take the spaceship since it makes me queasy.

That's a good thing, because our ride home (again, we were soaking) wasn't via the New Jersey transit train as we'd planned - it was via bus from the Port Authority station. NJ Transit had to cancel all service due to the weather. When we finally got to New Brunswick, Easton Ave was closed, so we had to backtrack to get home.

Today I learned from my mistakes, cut my losses and we stayed in Bridgewater! C and cousin S saw a movie, MIL and I shopped and enjoyed a nice lunch, while T took N to see a different movie in Manville. Safely at home, I put on my PJs and laid in bed until now. Much better than another day in Monsoon-Manhattan!

Leftovers for dinner. It's OK to laze-it sometimes!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday morning blues... and how to make everyone happy?

It's a hard morning to get up. Dark and gloomy, I feel guilty sending my kids to school when many of their friends are in Florida or other places, but I'd feel worse if I let them stay home and watch TV. What good would that do them?

A lot happened this weekend on the BOE front. Apparently the teachers voted to let the union negotiate. Some concessions have been made - and some things have been restored to the budget. Nothing will be guaranteed until teachers vote on this today. You can read about this here. I would have been disappointed if they didn't negotiate.

On the homefront - we have my mother-in-law and niece visiting for the next week. I love having them here, but it is always hard to find things that both my 15 year old niece and my 9 year old son want to do. When I choose to do what my niece wants/needs (usually shopping) my son stays home and plays video games or watches TV. When I choose him, then I am not as good a hostess. My idea for a day with a compromise trip to Philly got vetoed.

The hardest thing for Moms to learn? You can't make everyone happy!

But now is the example of how I'm REALLY making the kids miserable? I'm sending them to school on this snow-day payback day. I think I'll take my niece shopping (if she wants to go) while they are in school. Better get going.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A good day to lie on the couch with Diego...

No, he's not the the mailman!

He's my loving dog. Unconditional love, comfort and warmth... with no political affiliations! Pictured to the right, as a puppy. He's much bigger now!

I couldn't sleep last night. I was fretting about the state of my kids' schools. So today I treated myself to a half-hour on the sofa resting with Diego.

Just a little more than a year ago I was feeling such strong optimism. Remember how it felt? My father and I just had a spat... he's trying to blame Obama for the crisis in NJ schools! That just shows that anyone can twist any of this to find a personal demon, or victim.

I feel like all my "activism" - the meetings, the letters, the e-mails, the calls and countless discussions- even this blog - is all in vain. All these decisions have been made behind closed doors and I am completely powerless to invoke change.

A few weeks ago I blew off the BOE meeting to hang with Sawyer...

I think this week, I might have to spend it with Sayid. Sorry Dr. Schilder, you're going to have to manage with out your favorite soccer mom!

Anyway, I feel I have little to add to the discussion. Maybe I'll be more inspired after a few hours of TV and dreams of an adventure on an island far off in the Pacific.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Update...

Major bummer - it's everyone's fault- all three unions and the BOE! I don't want to hear anyone who works at BRRSD say they are sad about any cuts whatsoever! And I want to know, that somehow, the BOE did everything in it's power. What did it offer???

Teachers, please don't complain about losing the janitorial service at the next BOE meeting- it sounds hypocritical!! Even more so: please don't complain next year or even mention large class sizes as to why you can't help my struggling son. I expect you to teach just as well or better no matter how many kids are in your classes!

And, any administrator who works in the district better be much more willing to help my kids than they have been in the past. No excuses, OK!

How did I get so anti-union? I'm a left wing, socially liberal Democrat! My mother was a teacher!!!! Yet, I feel like the district I moved to isn't where I thought I'd be living. And that this whole thing is surreal.

What am I talking about?  This

I'm so disappointed and conflicted. I want to do well by my kids' individual teachers. I want them to be well paid. But I also see that these costs (of course NOT just teachers, the cost of administration makes me even sicker!) are tearing the district into shreds... when teachers want us to pay more taxes every year to cover their raises, I understand where they are coming from. But they also need to understand that we - the families who live here - have also been hit by the economic crisis and not to ignore it's existence. Although I seem fine, our family has also felt the crisis this past year.


BTW - I know ALL about tough negotiations. My life is one big negotiation and I am constantly losing. Better cut today's losses and get to bed!

Let me sound you out on this...

According to the exchange at the last BOE meeting between one of the Bridgewater BOE members and the head of the BREA, the two parties are slated to sit down for negotiations today. I imagine them sitting around a conference table as I write this, smiles on their faces, but little will to make any concessions. Will anyone change his/her mind?

Even the best-case scenario (whatever that means) won't be a be-all-and-end-all fix it for our financial woes. If everyone top to bottom takes a freeze, we can't save more than $2.7 million of the nearly $9 million hole. But even having parties sitting down and talking is a start. "Negotiations" up until now (according to statements at the BOE meeting) have been via letters. It's clearly not the same thing as meeting face to face if you want to get to the heart of the matter.

My big issue today is how this financial crisis has played out within the community. We are all pitted against one another, bitter and feeling like the other side doesn't understand the our points of view. Tenured teachers against, non-tenured teachers, administration against teachers, parents versus one another, and residents in the district who have no affiliation with the schools vs. teachers - even parents vs. teachers. Do you side with the Governor, the BOE, the "tax-payers", the NJEA/BREA? Which side are you on?

Or maybe, like me, your sympathies lie with several areas. I have found myself within a 24-hour period agreeing with people who have seemingly disparate opinions. Within my circle of friends I can name both teachers and administrators. I am friendly with, if not close friends with, people who are on the BOE. I've been friends for years with someone who is a BREA union rep. Even among my close friends, pretty much all of whom are BRRSD Moms, we have very different viewpoints on what should/has/hasn't been cut....want a heated discussion? Just say AI (Bridgewater's gifted and talented program)!!

I am sad for our community. We are not working together and perhaps we cannot. We are all griping about how these cuts will effect us most. I'm guilty as well with my "save academics" but temporarily freeze salaries mantra. When I say "cut administration" I forget how that would affect some of my closest friends. When I say I am for teachers, I sound a little hypocritical to them. Am I strong enough to stand my ground, even when it seems hypocritical?

Maybe we all need to step back and remind ourselves that when the dust settles, and it is clear how much funding we actually have to work with, we have shared goals... Or maybe I just (naively)  assume we do.  Regardless, we're all in this together.  I just wish I knew the cure to these problems.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another weeknight spent knitting...

At another board of ed meeting....

My biggest concern still is class sizes next year.  Anything under 25 will be a pleasant surprise. My biggest frustration is the low cuts in administration compared to the numbers of teachers being hit. I've said it several times in public and private. Many others brought it to the Board's attention too.

If you live here and are curious enough to read my blog, then there is no use rehashing what happened. If you are interested, you can read about yourself:

Here are the Bridgewater Superintendent's slides presented last night with the new cuts.

Here's the Courier's explanation of what went on last night.

Here's a comparison with our richer neighbors to the north and west. They lost ALL state aid. Someone told me Branchburg lost over 70% of their state aid, so our 55% seems less bad.....

And here is why the Township can't bail out the school district if the budget doesn't pass. They're being cut too. Bridgewater got especially hit, percentage wise, compared to other nearby towns. What else can the township cut? We have nearly no street lights, we have no downtown to maintain, our streets are in disrepair. We have a volunteer fire department? Hmm... maybe some of the administration?! It's not happening at the Wade building, so I am betting that the Township won't cut middle management either. I am quite sure that our tax assessor has the safest job in all of New Jersey!

It takes a village to write a blog and I think various friends who have shared these links with me so I could write mine today.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Soccer Mom's back???

Now where's your picket fence, love?
And where's that shiny car?
And did it ever get you far?
You never seemed so tense, love
I've never seen you fall so hard
Do you know where you are?
And truth be told, I miss you
And truth be told, I'm lying"

If you can't tell from the weather, you know it by the e-mails... from the coaches. From the manager. From the parents.

Soccer season is upon us again! Carpools are starting..... ladies and gentlemen rev your engines!

Last Spring I felt like I spent 200 hours a week in the car driving kids back and forth from various fields. It seemed like every time I got into the car this song was playing. It became "my song" and it was a running carpool joke.

Enough time has passed that I am actually looking forward to it. The cold chill on the sidelines. The stressful "Where's my sock?" pre-game trauma. The camaraderie with our team's fantastic parents.

The post-game ice-cream!

We're ready, team!

102.9F - Friday's delayed posting...

(This was written but not posted on Friday)

That may be C's temperature, but it was also accurate for the temperature at the BOE whiner-fest on Tuesday. The newest presentation of the various doomsday tiers (let's face it, there is no good news here, only increments of bad) in the latest game of "what should we cut first?" angered parents and teachers alike.

I stirred the pot and turned my name to mud by stating that I still think the most equitable solution would be an across the board freeze of all salaries top to bottom.


This was not popular with teachers and I was afraid to enter the school the following day!

I also said to the Superintendent that if he thinks there are an average of 18 kids per class, he hasn't been to my kids' schools. None of them have EVER had less than 20 kids in a class. So when he says increased class sizes means "22-24" kids per class he sounds ignorant.... I am assuming that with these cuts my kids will have around 27 in their classes. Not cool!

Then on Thursday, to make matters worse I stirred a different pot. The BOE President, the BREA (local teacher's union) President and the Superintendent were at C's school's PTO meeting. It was usurped by talk of the budget (again with various doomsday slides). This meeting allowed parents to ask the tough questions - and they did! It was less whiny than the BOE winge-out of Tuesday night, but I felt like parents tough questions were falling on deaf ears. I suggested cutting the nurses' secretaries and walked out into the hallway only to be read the riot act by that school's nurse's secretary. OOPS. She showed me a list of what she does and I listened to her.

What I've learned:

There is a certain amount of fear-mongering going on in the BREA. Teachers simply don't trust the BOE/Schilder to reinstate teachers if they cut their salaries.

The BOE has a very hard job these days - there are no good outcomes. Major cuts have to be made, but they are afraid to make the big ones like within the administration. Pay to play is on the discussion table, but they are afraid to commit.

It seems as though all this public input is a moot point. Everything is decided in committee and presented at BOE meetings with no modifications based on the public input portions of these meetings.

We look at other districts - Princeton has a nice ring to it, so does Warren. But BRRSD's cuts are coming from Trenton and all districts are likely to be hit too. Private school?? Well, that's of course an option if I want to go back to work full time (and beyond)... but the way this year has gone, between an injured husband and managing the kids, I can't imagine working full time in order to pay for private school.

And with my professional background, finding a job would be a hat trick! Better go take care of my sick chicadee... I think it's strep. The most important thing I have learned hanging around my kids' schools all these years? WASH YOUR HANDS!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring chicken???

I'm almost afraid to write the words lest I jinx it. It's been in the low 60s and sunny the past few days. The whole area is saying "aaah". Is spring here???

I've even turned off the heat am planning to change the window with a screen at the front door.

But there are areas of concern threatening just beneath the surface, namely the situation with our schools.

Last week I went from cautious optimism to pessimism the size of the Atlantic. It sounds like the BOE and the various unions are playing a game of chicken with our school aged kids as the losers.

Yes, I get that the teachers and administrators have had it a bit too sweet the last few years. While everyone else is getting cuts, they have continued to get raises. I agree that in these times they should take a temporary wages freeze, but I feel the same way about all district employees.

I am worried... but I have to remind myself what my parents taught me, i.e. that the foundation of a strong education starts in the home. If your kids see you reading, they will be more likely to read. If your kids see you care about their success, they will be more likely to succeed. If you have self-discipline and determination in your life, they will learn these traits too. It's a good thing my kids have two parents. I read much more than my husband does, but he is much more disciplined than I am. They will have good and bad examples here at our Casa L.

Enough from the disillusioned parent who wonders if we should cut our losses in Bridgewater and bail, or if we should try to create change from within. It's a beautiful day and I am, for once, very motivated to clean the house and make it as nice as this lovely day.

Be well, dear readers!