Friday, April 13, 2001
Looking for the devil
Everyone will tell you that the devil is in the details. That's why he's so hard to find. And, heaven knows, we have a forest of details in the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee's proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The little devil that is causing all the trouble is still eluding capture, and there is still no consensus on the high school budget as Carlisle and Concord approach their respective Annual Town Meetings.
Each year the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) kicks off the budget cycle by establishing a budget guideline, telling each town department and board the maximum increase that the town can afford. The game begins with each player er, organization proposing a budget that is above the FinCom guideline. Then, the FinCom and the selectmen try to guess which budget items are critical and which items are clever little devils hiding there to provide a bit of a cushion against all the 'what ifs.' As in any game of skill and strategy, there are many possible moves. Either side can try to negotiate, stand firm, or compromise. Deeper intrigues are possible, but only for a short time.
By April, the game is (supposed to be) over. The boards, committees and departments on one side, and the selectmen and FinCom on the other, have agreed on a budget and the Warrant is printed. The parties arrive at the Town Meeting, all smiles, patting each other on the back, and the townsfolk endorse their joint recommendations.
That's how the game is supposed to be played. But this year someone misplaced the script. For months, CCHS superintendent Ed Mavragis and the regional school committee steadfastly clung to their overall 12.4% budget increase over FY01, handing Carlisle a whopping 21% increase. Yes, we could see that enrollments are increasing, negotiated salaries can't be touched, energy costs are soaring and special education is mandated but not funded by the feds. But we still couldn't find the little devil that kept pushing the budget even higher. Until three days ago. On Tuesday, heaven be praised, someone found the critter (or at least his little cousin) and the budget shrank by $200,000.
But it's still too early to sing hallelujah. In Carlisle the selectmen have placed two articles in the Warrant representing cuts of $200,000 and $350,000 in the CCHS budget. Concord will also present two articles before its voters. If the two towns don't agree on the level of support for the high school, it is possible that we may need a joint Town Meeting, followed by additional special electionsfollowed by the Fourth of July. Hopefully someone will clean up the details so we can get to the "Amen!".
Bullying: not just a schoolyard issue
If you think that bullying only takes place in schools, think again. Bullying can happen anywherein the home, within a community, and in the workplace. A new Massachusetts law takes aim at bullying and requires authorities to take action against it. It is deliberate and hurtful behavior that is difficult for a person to defend against. Bullying includes calling a person names; saying or writing nasty things about them; excluding or not talking to them, threatening them or making them feel uncomfortable or scared; taking or damaging their things or physically hurting them. In short, bullying endangers everyone's safety by creating a hostile environment. The new law is an expansion of the sexual and racial harassment laws that give people the right to feel safe in their home, school, community and workplace.
Why do we need a law against bullying? Shouldn't it be common sense not to act this way? Believe it or not, bullying is often dismissed as part of growing up or as part of life, but as we are finding out, bullying experiences can ruin a person's life and sometimes end in suicide. Often the behavior is ignored because the person witnessing the bullying doesn't want to or doesn't know how to act on it. The victim's experience is often belittled. Being told to "ignore it" puts the responsibility for ending it on the person being bullied (i.e., "If you talk to me about this again, you must not be ignoring it well enough"). Worse, the person turned to for help sometimes further bullies the victim by suggesting isolation as a solution or by blaming the victim (i.e., "What are you doing to create this situation?").
Most young children find it hard to get involved when they witness bullying behavior in school and on the playground. Instead, they stand back to observe, and without intending to, they silently collude with the bully. The bully receives the message that he is supported by the others, and will continue the behavior unless there are clear consequences. Tolerance to bullying begins with the passive acceptance of small things done to less powerful members of the group. In schools, these are often the new kids or those with disabilities. As a community, we need to instill in our children a responsibility to act against bullying, but we also need to be sure that adults will act to ensure that bullies change their behaviorand support them if they speak up against it.
Bullying that starts in school sometimes spills over into the community. I believe this has happened in our community. Derogatory remarks and assumptions have been made about and towards new families, regarding the size of their homes and the amount of participation they have in our town. What messages do these remarks and prejudices send to our youngest citizens about new people in our community? Last year, homosexual taunts and jeers were bullying tactics of choice, and I will forever look at the Boy Scouts in a different light because of it. How can we support an association that condones the exclusion of gays, especially when such exclusion represents a common form of bullying in our schools among young males?
We must find ways to say what we mean without being mean. We must choose our words carefully and think about how they might be interpreted. Please let's be a kinder community and step in to stop bullying when we see it. We can't afford to look the other way.
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