By Lucy Harcourt
For The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Banter, protest, quarrels breakout and diffuse, then it is time for a recess. No, you are not in a courtroom, you are in Marisa Graham’s kindergarten classroom at Erskine Elementary in Anderson, where she is judge, jury and above all, young mind molder.
Graham, a nine-year veteran, is in her fifth year of teaching kindergarten. While her students may bicker over who cut whom in line, Graham is concerned with other cuts, particularly the $300 million made by Gov. Mitch Daniels, which resulted in steep budget cuts.
“It has drastically affected our school system here in Anderson. Along with other factors as well with legislation that has been passed since Daniels has been in office and since we have our new superintendent of Public Education, Tony Bennett, that caused even further cuts and less money to our public schools, buildings have been closed in Anderson and staff have been cut,” notes Graham.
Rick Muir, president of Anderson Federation of Teachers, adds, “There is too much government involvement in trying to make decisions for education. I think that is from federal and state level. They are not listening to the experts in the field. That is a real concern.”
In Anderson, cuts have already resulted in consolidation to one high school, containing grades seven thru twelve; two intermediate schools with grades four through six and five elementary schools. Losing buildings also means losing custodial staff, secretarial staff, teachers, and administrators. School closings planned for the next school year will save approximately five million dollars.
Despite the cuts already made, an additional $6 million needs to be trimmed, resulting in increased class sizes, curriculum cuts, and the elimination of special areas such as, physical education, library, art, and music, according to Graham.
Charter and private schools have profoundly affected Anderson. When parents choose private schooling, public schools lose funds, to the tune of $6,000 per student resulting negatively in cuts to staff, buildings and curriculum., sadi Graham.
Muir agrees saying, “…the current administration, from the governor to Superintendent Bennett, are bent on diverting as much as they can into private education. This country was built on a lot of building blocks, but public education is certainly one of those, and it is being dismantled.”
Graham reaffirms her dedication to traditional educational values, “Public educators do the very best they can with the resources they are given. Unlike charter and private schools, the arms of public schools are open to all children, and the teachers continue to educate those children to the best of their ability.”
“We are fortunate in Anderson Community Schools to have a strong contract and a very strong union that looks out for the best interests of the children. We are not willing to increase class sizes.”
According to Graham, poverty also affects a child’s education in many ways.
“Children of poverty are not given the same opportunities because they do not have the economic status, knowledge of options, or transportation to go to charter or private schools.”
ACS knows its students, Graham notes.
“As a public educator, we know them, we know their situation and we service those children well. They receive a great education.
“We are going to remain committed to reaching out to all children regardless of race, economic status, or special needs, but unfortunately, we are going to continue to do that with less and less money.”