Right on two levels

Published 8:10 pm Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It’s easy to complain that taxpayers spend too much to educate the area’s children. And there’s plenty of room for concern when one looks at the costs of overhead, of administration and of the many non-teaching segments of a public school system’s budget. Studies, however, continue to show that the cost of a community’s disregard for its educational obligation can be far greater.

Kids without a good education are far more likely to wind up in prison than those who have that important foundation — and the cost of keeping someone in prison for a year far outstrips that of educating him for the same period, even in the most administratively top-heavy systems around.

Sadly, however, there is a segment of the student population that seems to seek out the worst of both situations — they find trouble that eventually could land them in jail, and they trivialize the importance of the education that society has offered them.

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Those students often wind up in Suffolk Public Schools’ nighttime alternative program. Maybe they’ve brought weapons or drugs to school; maybe they’ve had fights. Whatever the cause of their move to the NAP, these students have proved that they’re not ready to be mixed with the general population of students who are in school to learn. With some mixed success, the nighttime program has sought to intervene in the lives of troubled kids to help them find their way back onto the straighter and narrower path and on the way to graduation.

The mixed success of the program, however — along with the press of budget shortfalls — convinced the School Board that the time had come for a change. Starting next year, the program’s participants will take classes at Turlington Woods during the daytime. The change will help overcome the problems associated with allowing the problem students to be out of school during the daytime, and it will put them in a situation that more closely mimics the school setting that administrators eventually want the students to return to.

As a bonus, closing the nighttime program will save the school system $150,000. At a time when schools are figuratively looking under desks for pennies to help them make budget, saving any amount in the six figures range can be the difference between laying teachers off and keeping them employed.

In choosing to end the nighttime alternative program in favor of a different approach to working with troubled students, the Suffolk School Board showed a high regard for both those students and for taxpayers. That’s the way it should always work.