Most meetings, the only people there are the board members, a handful of administrators, the girl from the radio, and me.
Last night, the conference room was crammed. We kept sliding our chairs back and to the side, closer and closer together, putting in new rows as more and more people came in. A high school senior followed the example of an older man, gave up his seat to woman standing against the wall.
I lost count at 60.
And through that meeting, they cried. Mothers told how teachers slated for layoffs changed their childrens’ lives. Students stood up in front of everyone to plead for reprieve.
And the board members all looked sick.
Because what can you do when you’re a tiny district, when 75 percent of your funding comes from the state, when huge tax increases don’t make a dent in your deficit? What can you do when contracts force you to furlough those with the least seniority, even if they’re the best teachers?
“Our hands are tied,” she told me afterward, and I knew she was crying though she tried to hold it all in.
But what struck me was the calm. Here we were packed in so close we couldn’t move, women sobbing, parents and students rallying around their favorite teachers, and when they asked us to scoot closer, we all did. No one shouted. No one accused. They pleaded, they questioned, they mourned, but they stayed courteous.
Board members, even ones who disagreed, did the same. “We all have the best interests of the district at heart,” one told me, even though they disagreed about what those best interests were.
The superintendent looked tired, so tired. This can change, he said again, but the words sounded hollow. The state hasn’t passed a budget yet. We could get more from the state, bring back one or two of them. Or we couldn’t.
Outside, they’ve formed clumps, standing around, talking to each other. I don’t hear what they’re saying. The sun is slicing through thick rain clouds, but I see a swath of gray on a far-away hill. Power is still out in Indiana, and we all carefully eye each other at intersections, make sure we’re all stopping because the lights are out.
They’ll be OK, I think. They have what some other districts don’t. They’re a whole, a community that’s connected still, that will stand together. I don’t see the distrust, the acrimony, the selfishness and my-way-at-all-costs attitude I see elsewhere.
I brush my teeth by candlelight and fall asleep to rain and the utter darkness of an entire town without light.
We’ll all be OK, I think. Won’t we?