Limiting options hurts students

To the editor:

Concerned by recent articles about the proposed Saranac Lake school budget, I attended the school board meeting this past Wednesday, April 2. I don’t have children in the system now, but I am the daughter of two educators and care greatly about Saranac Lake’s future, so I wanted to learn about the controversial proposal.

The meeting began with a PowerPoint presentation that helped to explain the complex financial, curriculum and other factors the school board must consider when creating a budget. The presentation suggested that the current proposal keeps class sizes within an acceptable range and largely retains teachers in the core subjects (although I have to wonder on the specifics of some of the numbers, such as whether special education aides working on a 1:1 ratio with their students were counted as instructors, skewing the overall student-teacher ratios).

The presentation also verified that the decision to eliminate certain academic positions was subjective, with the administrators cutting the electives they see as least important. It was suggested that the selections may have been based on enrollment numbers from this past year, without taking into account the fact that the number of students choosing these electives varies widely over time.

I understand that money must be found somewhere. But I am disturbed by the vision of a school system so focused on core classes, with administrators making decisions that leave students little room for exploration. I was lucky enough to attend a high school that, though small, offered advanced French classes as well as a study-abroad option. I had no idea then what my future held, but I see now how life-altering that trip was: I loved experiencing the new culture so much that I chose my college based on its study-abroad programs, and then spent a semester in Italy. I wandered for years after college (including a stint working with high school students in Europe, using my language skills), before finally settling into a career and lifestyle that I love. Watching that school board meeting last week made me shudder to think how narrow my life might be now if my school had focused us all into only the core classes.

All of childhood is important, but high school is an especially unique time, with students facing an incredibly open world. As we all know, life only seems to constrict later. We should be offering as much variety as possible during those years so that students can search for interests beyond the basics. It might be art, or music or, like me, foreign culture that captures their attention and leads to lifelong enrichment.

For this reason, I urge the school board to search more creatively for cuts that won’t be so destructive. Alternatively, I urge a vote for a tax cap override. Saranac Lake’s students deserve it.

Sarah Reynolds

Saranac Lake