New York City
March 2003

Staying Focused
by Stuart dunn

We live in a world in which events take place at breakneck speed; events which capture attention and make daily concerns seem mundane and less important. Thus, it was with the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, and more recently, with the loss of the space shuttle and the death of seven astronauts. The decline in the stock market and the feeble economy with the resulting loss of jobs and savings are of ongoing concern. Since the Romans, politicians have understood the use of bread and circus to distract the public. Some think that President Bush’s preoccupation with Iraq involves “circus”—a war to provide a distraction while he pushes his plans through congress and cuts funding in crucial areas, and “bread”—low cost oil to prop-up the economy.

One of the tasks of a columnist is to try to keep things in perspective, to remind the public of important, if less dramatic issues and events. This newspaper is focused on education. Those of us, who write for it, like everyone else, get caught up by dramatic events, are concerned about safety and worried about the economy. Our job, however, is to remind the public and our elected officials that despite dramatic events and pressing problems, the task of teaching the children goes on, and the task of making this possible remains critical. Continued failure here jeopardizes our future, providing a significant victory to those who would weaken America.

Despite a serious budgetary imbalance the mayor has continued his emphasis on education. But, the objective of a significant remake of the public education system cannot be achieved without the necessary funding. The dramatic news events have pushed state and city revenue shortfalls to newspaper back pages, but these shortfalls are already having an impact on city services including public education. Early childhood education and after-school programs are threatened by proposed reductions in state and federal funding. Supplemental services are being cut back or eliminated, and efforts to reduce class size may be delayed or suspended.

Mayor Bloomberg has been working with federal and state officials to increase city revenues and balance the budget. He has to speak out forcefully about the president’s failure to fully fund the “no child left behind” program. He should become more insistent on increased state aid to education, on support for his revenue enhancement program, and on relief of obligations imposed on the city by the state such as Medicaid cost. He has got to stop making nice with the governor. Getting more support from the state will not be easy with the state having its own budgetary problems. But, who ever said the job of mayor would be easy?#

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