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Last week, the best entertainment value in Bedford turned out to be a board of supervisors budget work session. During the course of the work session, District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler likened Dr. Douglas Schuch to a copperhead and Xerxes, the 5th century B. C. Persian monarch who tried to conquer the Greek city-states.
I don’t know if describing Dr. Schuch as a copperhead is accurate. He doesn’t seem particularly venomous. Overpaid, perhaps, but not venomous.
I don’t know if he’s Xerxes, either. The various communities that make up the Bedford area do squabble like ancient Greek city states when it comes to school funding. There also seems to be sort of a united effort to oppose the school board’s proposal to close Bedford Primary School. Four of the six supervisors present at the work session opposed the idea and Body Camp parents seem to be standing firm with Bedford Primary parents even though Body Camp is no longer on the chopping block, for now.
The insults obviously made Dr. Schuch angry and his anger came out in a defiant news conference the next day during which he hurled an insult of his own by accusing the supervisors of political posturing.
I’m occasionally on the receiving end of a rude, insulting e-mail. I can understand Dr. Schuch’s anger. Sometimes an insulting e-mail makes me angry, too. However, there is the occasional time when the barbed electronic missive was well deserved. Sometimes I’ve brought it on myself by one of those “should have known better” oversights, and I think that this is true of Dr. Schuch’s situation.
The school board made a politically unwise decision with this year’s school budget. The budget contained a combination — closing a school while simultaneously initiating a new program and giving school employees a raise during a tight budget year — that proved explosive.
Yes, I heard Dr. Schuch argue that blending learning isn’t a new program. He said that it’s just a different way of delivering educational services, an explanation that made me think of a lawyer trying to split hairs on the wording of a law. Indeed public schools deliver educational services, something they have done since the 17th century and the way they do it has changed many times since. Those changes have, along with scrapping old programs, included introducing new ones and blended learning is indeed a new program that is going to require a $200,000 expenditure to begin with. Blended learning sounds like a great idea, based on Dr. Schuch’s defense of it, but this doesn’t seem like the wisest time to implement it.
The way closing Bedford Primary was presented was also unwise. I was at the budget work session, back in February, when School Board Chairman Debbie Hoback spoke about the school division’s dire budget situation. She listed cuts that they had already made, then listed more draconian cuts that would be needed if more money did not become available. The impression Hoback left on me, and apparently left on the supervisors, was that closing both Bedford Primary School and Body Camp Elementary was a desperate budget cutting measure, not something being done because Dr. Schuch and the school board believed consolidating these schools into other larger schools was educationally beneficial for the children.
Later, when state K-12 education cuts didn’t turn out to be as deep as anticipated, the supervisors were under the impression that an additional $1.1 million in local money would prevent these schools from being closed. When they saw the final school budget, they were stunned — actually more than stunned. A majority of them were furious because they felt that Dr. Schuch and the school board deliberately deceived them.
Now, both parties feel the other has broken the truce that has held for a few years and Athens and Sparta have resumed their war.