Closing Session Comments: Making It Work

Article excerpt

The metropolitan school district of Martinsville, Ind., a district in southern Indiana, has approximately 5,500 youngsters. By Indiana standards, we are the 36th largest school district in the state with 294 school districts. I suspect that our programs, problems, and youngsters are typical to most districts in the nation. I was asked to respond to the content of the conference from a school superintendent's point of view, and to raise some critical factors related to public schools. I divided the task into two phases: First, what health organizations and professionals need to understand about schools, and second, some alternatives or possible alternatives that health organizations might consider as the Comprehensive School Health Education planning process proceeds.

PHASE I: WHAT WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND

We need to understand that in no small measure public schools are having trouble achieving their mission. Our mission might be more achievable if Comprehensive School Health Education were implemented in all schools across the nation. Because of the poor health of youngsters and families, school instructional goals are difficult to achieve. Seven of the 10 identified health content areas are central to the problems children face daily -- family life, nutrition, disease, substance abuse, mental health, personal health, and consumer health. If students and their families are not reasonably healthy to begin with, it inhibits the ability of students to learn much of anything, let alone reach their full potential.

Health organizations and health professionals need to understand that public schools face too many mandates, especially mandates without funding. Consider carefully the lobbying in legislative efforts. Too many people believe that new laws, rules, and regulations ensure positive change. They do not! There is increasing pressure on schools to reduce costs and there is considerable pressure from a variety of special interest groups to increase spending in areas of concern to them. The past two legislative sessions in Indiana produced something on the order of 60 mandates for schools, most all without appropriate funding. These mandates ranged from orders to teach about testicular and breast cancer (a law in Indiana says we must do that) to implementation of in-school programs for 3- and 4-year-old handicapped children. We now have a law that says we must have earthquake drills several times a year. It goes on from there. Mandated programs, especially mandated programs without full funding, are becoming more and more troublesome for school districts across America.

Health organizations and health professionals need to understand that all schools are not equal in their ability to respond to needs -- instructional needs or otherwise. In Indiana, the expenditure per pupil ranges from less than $3,000 per student to more than $6,000. Indiana is not atypical. In Indiana, the only way to raise local taxes to meet local needs is by referendum. It is very difficult to get a referendum passed, and over the last 10 years only a handful of districts have been successful. The only new money available comes from the General Assembly, and for the past several years it has taken all the new money to maintain existing programs. I believe this is the case for school districts in many states. To ask local school districts to respond to Comprehensive School Health Education, requiring increased staff and staff development may be asking them to do things they simply cannot do.

We need to understand carefully that taxpayers, politicians, and the media want to reduce the amount of money spent on public education or at least keep it level. They want to reduce the number of administrators, guidance workers, teachers of art, music, physical education, and basically all teaching areas having little or nothing to do with teaching the three R's. That pressure is significant.

We can't always do what we want to do or always do what is best. …