Monday, April 2, 2007

Robert Elwell: New Hampshire is being crushed by an 800-pound gorilla

The following piece appeared in the Union Leader.

Robert Elwell: New Hampshire is being crushed by an 800-pound gorilla

13 hours, 7 minutes ago

UNTIL NEW Hampshire and all its people come to grips with the real meaning of the "view tax," there will be no healing of the deep divide which so separates us and brings us into contention with each other, our government and even our own sense of right and wrong.

Our government contends that it needs more of our money to "run the government" and is willing to try just about anything to get it.

That same government has for too long tried to ignore the 800-pound gorilla with a bad attitude that peers over our shoulders at every budget meeting, every town meeting and just about any discussion where the cost of government is the topic.

And that is the cost of education in New Hampshire, which, I hope all taxpayers know, is where most of our tax money goes. I attended the White Mountain Regional School District budget session and was reminded of a couple of things that had kind of stood out in my mind.

The first and the most scary to me, was when one gentleman explained that the school committee is under no obligation to spend moneys on the reasons for which those funds were requested in the first place.

So the school committee can go before the voters and say things such as: "The schools are old, such and such a school was built way back in 1943 and is a fire trap and needs to be replaced, and all the other schools are in need of major repairs, and we need an additional $35 million to fix all those things." And when the voters respond out of concern for the children, much of the money gets spent on other things not mentioned in the submitted budget.

I think most will agree, as was my school experience, that the most precious, most appreciated moments were spent in the presence and under the guidance of that one special teacher who could light the lamp of learning and open minds to the wonders of the world of knowledge in ways that made me want more of the truth, the truth of what makes the world and its people good or bad, noble or small and petty.

I have come to believe that one special teacher whether in the classroom, on the job or as a good friend is what needs to be most cherished for us to become what we were intended to be.

I also can't help but wonder how much of what gets spent for education is directed toward rewarding those teachers who truly love their calling and live just to see that spark of learning kindled and burn brightly in those under their care, and how much gets spent on those who spend no time in the classroom, or even how much is wasted on those who have no business being entrusted with the care of young minds. Even in the dark ages of my education, there seemed to be too many who just put in their time with little or no regard for the uniqueness of their calling.

As I looked over this year's proposed budget, I noticed that out of a total budget of $19 million, over $6 million was for administrative costs. Almost one third of the budget was for administrative costs.

Over in Maine, where they have some of the same problems as here in New Hampshire, the governor had proposed doing away with a whopping 85 percent of school administration across the state.

That seems to ask the question, is the administration of each of our separate school districts in New Hampshire identical enough that this state could, if the Legislature had the courage to do so, create an instant 25 percent savings for New Hampshire property-owning taxpayers?

Even the suggestion of such a measure would be sure to send our courageous legislators, who wish to be called "honorable," diving under their desks to get away from the wrath of that 800-pound gorilla with the bad attitude.

For too many years the Legislature has been more interested in working on such weighty issues as whether or not the pumpkin should be named the state fruit.

Honorable? A person who was considering running for the Legislature made the mistake of asking a sitting legislator, "What would be expected of me if I run and get elected?" The questioner was told, "For the first year, you sit there, keep your mouth shut, and don't even think about speaking to the whole body, and we will tell you when to speak, and what to say"!


Can that be the way it has always been in Concord?

If so, then to me "Live free or die" has been a sham, a bad joke on all of us.

But I don't believe those men from so long ago were joking. I believe that for the most part they had the courage and foresight to not only say but to do the right thing for future generations hundreds of years to come.

I believe many of them were noble people who did the right thing because that's what people do when they care whether they are doing what they should -- to make the world better for all, and not just their friends.

To me that's what "honorable" is all about.

We have, just by trusting people who don't deserve trust, allowed our own government to become the girlfriend of the 800-pound gorilla with the bad attitude.

As long as we refuse to face up to this -- all we will get is more gorillas with bad attitudes -- and they will get all of our money.

"Live free or die!"

Robert Elwell lives in Lancaster.

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