AUGUST 25, 1959
HYDE PARK, N.Y—On going up to Hyde Park this past weekend I learned that in my own home locality I had been very negligent as a citizen. There had been a vote on the school budget, and I had not even known about it!
Of course, the notice to voters and some comments were in our local newspapers, but I often put off reading them until I collect several. And no one had drawn my attention to the fact that the new school budget is highly controversial.
Now, one would expect that such a budget would bring out a big vote. But I am afraid that many people do not pay attention to their local news, for only 1,200 people went to the polls. Thus, a small organized minority that opposed the budget apparently succeeded in getting it voted down. This, of course, would not have been possible if all the people having children going to schools in our district had been thoroughly acquainted with the problems of the budget and with the serious situation they would face if the budget were defeated.
There are a large number of people—even those with a real interest in education because they have children in the schools—who are too apathetic about taking action when action is needed. This is surely not the case only in our district, but must be so throughout the country. And this must be indicative of a general apathy on many subjects where, in a democracy, people have the right to express themselves. Nevertheless, they either allow themselves to be unconscious of the fact that they should express themselves or they simply trust that others will carry the burden for them.
They become apathetic citizens, but are a little astonished when they find something has gone quite differently from the way they expected it to go.
I am not familiar, of course, with the laws in other states, and I do not know if the results of defeating a school budget would be the same everywhere. But under our laws it means that the Board of Education is obliged to open the schools on a contingency budget. And if the tax rolls, which should be made out in early September, were to be made up on the basis of this budget the school would have to be run without a number of things that we consider essential today.
A contingency budget in our state provides for no transportation. However, a petition may be put up by those living beyond the three-mile limit, and transportation, if allowed, can be supplied for children beyond that limit. Those living within three miles of schools, though, must walk—and with our crowded highways this becomes a dangerous undertaking. Also, there will be no cafeteria service, so parents must see that their children take their lunches. And a contingency budget provides for no extracurricular activities and no books except for those that are brought by the children themselves.
This is a state of affairs that has shocked a good many people in our community. Nevertheless, a new budget, from which every possible unnecessary item has been removed, will be presented for a vote on September 14. Now, if this budget is defeated we must under the law wait 25 days before any changes may be made for resubmission to the voters.
It seems to me that our methods of communication in our smaller communities have fallen down. And certainly in this case public relations have been bad, for the Board of Education evidently had been unable to communicate to the electorate its reasons for recommending certain things.
This column is written primarily to point out the harm that apathy and lack of knowledge can bring about. It so happens in this case that the school and the children will suffer. But all over our country apathy and lack of knowledge are bringing about a variety of situations that can be corrected only by greater interest and activity on the part of individuals themselves.