School budget season is upon us in Barrow and it will bring all the usual themes: How much should teachers be paid; should senior citizens be exempt from school taxes; why do school districts put so much money into non-classroom activities?

The first budget presentation of the year was last week at the Barrow County school board. It provided ample evidence of that “non-classroom” money.

Those have sensible answers, although some folks may not want to hear them. We will do a lot of budget stories between now and June.

Luckily, I spent an earlier portion of the day seeing the results of students’ work. In one instance, I was overwhelmed by art in the annual fine arts show. In a second, I watched students whiz through an “engine building” practice. The art combined a little bit of everything — music, math, science, literature, big ideas. The engine-building was a whirlwind of activity by a group of students “who have to talk to each other,” instructor Michelle Beck repeated like a mantra.

Back to the budget, teachers should be paid like doctors and lawyers — if we believe what we say. We say, and our political candidates say much like a mantra, that children are our future. If that is the case, it would be difficult to overpay.

The problem is that most of us do not make what lawyers and doctors make. Most teachers in this area make about the median income. Paying dramatically better is a tough sell when the folks who pay the bills may not make as much as teachers now.

Senior citizens, and I am one, should not be exempt from paying school taxes. Certainly, we have paid them all our adult lives — and we should. Schools are a foundation of our society. They have to be supported.

To paraphrase a cliché, taxes are the rent we pay for being here.

As my wife would say, we want those kids to be educated. They are the ones who will be counting our medications and taking care of us in our old age.

A large focus of school systems today is on security and safety. That costs money. School resource officers and mental health training and counselors are not cheap.

Lynn Stevens, vice chair of the Barrow BOE, is fond of saying the public expects schools to do everything so they might as well provide mental health services. She is being a bit sarcastic, but think about changes in society in the past decade.

Schools are the focus of more and more services. Witness the food programs, where some schools provide free breakfast and lunch and then give kids backpacks with kid-sized servings for the weekend so they won’t be hungry. At least two board members in Barrow have said more money should be directed toward kids’ safety, even if that means taking it from other services.

Please notice I have written nearly 500 words and have yet to talk about curriculum (teachers’ salaries certainly are part of that), technology or professional training.

Schools are expected to train kids to be ready for work or to college for additional training and to be “collaborative.” That big word means talk to one another regularly.

In the best schools, kids learn to make connections between subjects — music and science being among my favorites.

Barrow recently agreed to “put on the table” — give the public time to review — four potential textbooks for Advanced Placement classes. Some districts have drastically cut the number of texts bought. They get material electronically from the internet. Some assign teachers to create texts and lesson plans without texts.

“Critical thinking” is one of the buzzwords in education these days. Near as I can tell, it is largely what a liberal arts education was 30 or 40 years ago — a broad, diverse knowledge base and how best to make connections among those topics to reach conclusions and resolve problems.

Budgets seldom raise these questions, but they are educational. The problems arise when other things, like being hungry or dysfunctional families or mental health problems, get in the way.

Ron Bridgeman is a reporter for Mainstreet News. Send email to him at ron@mainstreetnews.com.

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