Walden's war on children

To the Editor:

A few Walden residents don't want to pass a school budget -- any budget. If they did, your children would surely have the supplies and resources they need to foster their education, because the most recent failed budget was so spare, so modest, that it barely met the state's legal mandate. Because there was such opposition, it is clear that there is not, and never will be, a budget that will satisfy them. But why?

Well, some of them just don't believe education is important. Or they believe that a "good enough" education can be had for the price of a blackboard and a dictionary simply because it was sufficient a thousand years ago. Some of them don't like the way the system works. They don't like the fact that officials and legislators in Montpelier decide what needs to be in the budget and force the towns to comply. They want more local control. Finally, there are some who simply don't like certain school board members or local officials. They feel disrespected; they feel their opinions are not being shown enough reverence; they don't feel important enough or powerful enough; their egos have been bruised, and so they are holding your children -- our children -- hostage.

Many of you have received long, droning letters from a certain resident, full of confusing numbers, urging you to vote no at every turn. Many of you have received anonymous postcards with colorful highlighting and many, many exclamation marks; angry postcards designed to scare you into believing there is some sinister plot, some faraway pack of liberal elitists hatching plans to send your taxes through the roof. "O when will it stop!!! O when will they leave us alone!!!! Enough is enough!!!!!" These tactics are as old as democracy, and quite effective, particularly when they are full of misinformation, and when they are anonymous, thereby making it impossible for anybody to address the omissions and half truths. They get to say whatever they want, and people believe it. It's a cowardly approach, but it works.

Not only are a few Walden residents recklessly holding our children back, setting them at a disadvantage, and jeopardizing their futures over a set of archaic and irrelevant notions and personal enmity, but they are also tearing apart the fabric of this community. Families are leaving town. Those who can (not many) are sending their kids to private schools. People feel frustrated and humiliated. Parents are donating paper and pencils. Last week, when my son lost his first tooth, he wanted to bring the dollar the Tooth Fairy gave him to school so his class could get new crayons. Enough is enough indeed.

The people who are dividing this community and trying to destroy our school (make no mistake, that is their ultimate goal, though you'd have to be as dense as cobblestone pie to think that busing the kids to other towns and paying those tuitions would be any cheaper than utilizing the perfectly good school we have already) need to take this fight to Montpelier where it belongs and take the stranglehold off our innocent children. Of course, they are unlikely to do any such thing. At some point we must begin to ignore these naysayers, propagandists and community agitators. Their position is not a serious one. They are not participating in a civic conversation. Their heels are dug deep and all they say is no no no -- to everything. They cannot be engaged, so we must not pay their ransom. Too much is at stake. We must move forward without them. My son doesn't get to start 1st grade over once they have ceased their petty bickering.

Don't be fooled by their aggressive campaign of negativity and fear. They want you to believe this budget is bloated, when the truth is that it's outrageously insufficient already. The time is now to shake ourselves out from under their influence, ignore the fear-mongering, and take back our town. It is time for civic responsibility and common sense to prevail. This is our home! These kids are our future!

On Tuesday, vote to approve the budget and help put this ugliness behind us, help restore our sense of togetherness. It is a small price to pay to give our children the education they are entitled to by law, and deserving of by every measure of morality.

And to you naysayers out there: I do not wish to persuade you by staying up all hours of the night crunching numbers, creating charts and graphs (though doing so might illuminate how drastically our kids are falling behind). No, you will find no confusing numbers here, no fractions, no percentages, no algebraic proofs - only a question and a simple plea. Do you care about the vitality of your town? If so, do what is right for the children, and for Walden itself. There is a time and place for thrift. But being miserly to the point of martyrdom benefits nobody, and only perpetuates suffering. Vote yes. There will be a little swelling in your heart. It will feel good, I promise.

Ryan Cusack

Walden, Vt.

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