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Column - Difficult decisions need compromise

For most of us, there's been a time when we've needed to make a difficult decision that has a win-lose outcome tied to it. Unfortunately, some decisions simply aren't a win-win.

In tough economic times like we are seeing right now, there seems to be a lot more of those tough decisions that need to be made. And there seems to be a lot of people grumbling and complaining when they don't think the decisions are the right ones.

It's easy to point fingers and criticize the decisions being made when we aren't the ones having to make them, and it's easy to make assumptions when you don't have all the data or know the whole story.

Alexandria School District 206 - like school districts across the country - is being forced to make many decisions that simply cannot have win-win outcomes. But the fact is, the decisions have to be made anyway.

For the 2011-2012 school year, the district needs to make nearly $800,000 in cuts to its budget. That's not going to be easy, and whatever they choose to cut is going to hurt someone.

No one can believe that the district takes decisions like this lightly. I believe they value their staff, they want their students to have the best possible education, and so on. And I believe they spend hours researching and studying and working hard to come up with ideas and proposals that will allow the district to meet its budget while having the least amount of negative impact on all involved.

One of the recently proposed changes would affect Discovery Middle School, changing the school day from seven periods to six and forcing students to make a choice in their exploration classes, such as having to choose between music and art. This period change would save the district about $300,000.

A large number of parents, teachers, students and community members felt strongly this was not a good proposal, and they did something about it. Instead of criticizing and complaining, they took action. They shared their feelings and concerns through letters, phone calls and at a school board meeting. And they got results.

School officials listened with open ears and open minds and proposed another change that would still allow the six-period day, but would not require students to make choices between music and art. Instead, it would lessen the frequency of some classes, going from a two-day rotation to a three-day rotation or going from nine- or 18-week sessions to six-week sessions.

Of course that's not a win-win scenario, because kids are losing out on class hours in several areas, some teachers are losing class hours, etc. But when you look at the big picture and try to make a decision that has the least negative impact on the whole picture, compromise is a necessity, and that is what seems to be happening here. Many don't want students to have to choose between art or music instead of experiencing both, so they are willing to compromise and accept the fact that students can still have both, just on a shorter or less frequent basis.

District officials obviously still have their work cut out for them - an additional $500,000 still needs to be cut to make up the shortfall. But I think this situation sent a good message to all of us. There are obstacles to overcome, and difficult decisions need to be made, but if we all work together and share our thoughts, ideas and resources to try to come up with answers with the "least negative impact," we'll all be better off.

Of course there will be compromises, but it's the only way.

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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