Barry Saunders

School day should include reading, writing and cleaning – Saunders

Wake schools face $17.5 million budget shortfall

Wake County school board Chairman Tom Benton talks about impact of staff's recommended budget cuts.
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Wake County school board Chairman Tom Benton talks about impact of staff's recommended budget cuts.

Fifty years later, I still haven’t figured out what that green stuff was that Mr. Cooke sprinkled all over the floors at Leak Street School before he swept and cleaned them.

As one whose powers of comprehension were lacking even in the third grade – dang, can’t even blame it on old age – I never understood why the venerated janitor tossed the soft, green, slightly sticky pellets all over the floor before sweeping it. The floors, remarkably to me, were shiny and clean after he swept up the pellets.

He, along with a couple of other employees, did that at the end of every school day, and I don’t recall the school being anything other than spotless.

Spotless schools will go the way of stone tablets and civics lessons if the budget proposed by the staff of the Wake County school system is adopted. In an effort to save money, the staff is recommending that thermostats be turned up a degree in summer and down a degree in winter, and that classrooms be cleaned twice a week instead of the current – and already insufficient – three times a week.

Oh joy. As if kids weren’t already little walking snot fountains and Petri dishes of communicable diseases, subjecting them to hotter classrooms will only make them more susceptible to illnesses. When they get sick, guess who’s going to have to take care of them?

That’s right: you, dear parents. As is often the case, the kid will be back on her or his feet the next day while mommy and daddy will be calling in sick to work.

Are y’all cool with the possibility that not only will your children spend their days in sporadically cleaned classrooms – with yesterday’s dust mites, bugs and boogers – but that the the likelihood of them becoming sick will increase?

Someone who isn’t cool with it is Tom Benton, chairman of the school board. Nor is he as fretful of outbreaks as I am. “The crazy thing is,” Benton told me Wednesday, that the board wanted to increase the number of cleanings back up to four times a week. He noted that classrooms were cleaned five times a week prior to the recession in 2009.

The number of cleanings, he said, refers only to “general cleaning. ... Anytime there’s a need for ‘spot’ cleaning, we have custodial staff there to take care of that every day. I’m not 100 percent sure that cut is going to make it into the final budget. That’s the one that’s giving the most heartburn to people on the board.”

Commonsense would indicate to me, though, particularly during cold and flu season, that the less cleaning you have, the more risk you do run.

Tom Benton, Wake County school board chairman

Won’t reducing the number of cleanings increase the chances of kids becoming sick? I asked.

“That’s one of those things we like to say,” he said, citing studies on the issue, “but I’m not sure the science really supports that. Commonsense would indicate to me, though, particularly during cold and flu season, that the less cleaning you have, the more risk you do run.”

Speaking of commonsense – and someone who rarely exhibits it – Newt Gingrich proposed a solution to the problem of unclean classrooms and schools five years ago.

Gingrich, who apparently was on the short list to be the 2016 GOP vice presidential candidate, proposed in a 2011 speech that schools ax most janitors and have poor children clean the classrooms.

Go ahead and look at your calendar to make sure this isn’t April Fools Day.

The dude was serious when he said, “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid. Saying to people you shouldn’t go to work before you’re 14, 16. You’re totally poor, you’re in a school that’s failing with a teacher that’s failing. ... These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work; they’d have cash; they’d have pride in the schools.”

Oy!

School administrators didn’t listen to Gingrich, thank goodness, nor did they listen to me a decade or so ago when I warned that cutting out physical education classes – again, to save money – would result indirectly in higher costs when we became saddled with a generation of fat, unhealthy students whose only exercise came from walking to the cafeteria.

We need to urge the board to reject a proposal that is, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, penny wise and flu foolish.

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