Virtual Voices

N.Y. Journal: Contrasting priorities

Education

I think every government branch believes the others should spend less profligately.

I realized this after I was lucky enough to get an invitation to Gracie Mansion, the residence of the New York City mayor, for a barbecue celebrating the induction of almost 200 NYC Civic Corps volunteers.

The mansion is next to a park and it's hard to tell where the park ends and the mansion's grounds begin. My friend, a public school teacher, and I walked up through the entrance and checked our names off the guest list, winding our way through security. A city employee in a crisp skirt and blouse briskly informed us that should we join the line, we could have our picture taken with Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

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We stood at the foot of the porch and debated. I would only do it if the line was short, because I stand in enough long lines each day, so since the line didn't look too long, we joined it. More crisply dressed city employees ordered me to place my purse on my left side and no, I could not hand it to my friend and there was no setting it down. I have no government boons to beg (except perhaps lower taxes) but we talked about what my friend would say to the mayor about education, given the chance. She has to use her own money to buy her classroom's Kleenex. A plea for just one thousand more dollars a year would do it.

The pace picked up and we hurriedly checked our makeup. Mayor Bloomberg---shorter than I expected, since I somehow expect powerful men to be tall---grasped my right hand and murmured something polite, staring out at the camera lens. I grinned the same general direction and he spun me away and let go. It was like a square dance: clasp hands, spin, and next down the line.

We took some white wine from the open bar, wandered around the airy tent, stood in another line for barbecue. We stationed ourselves under a tree and I realized how impossible it is to hold a wine glass, a paper plate and cut pork at the same time.

The contrast between the lavish barbecue and my friend's little classroom was hard to miss. Given the money it took to throw it, she could have brought crayons to last her for years.

But New York already spends $15,981 per student---more than any other state. It seems something is wrong---something along the line is wasteful and misappropriated in the education department, too---if the state is spending that much and my friend doesn't see it. It's kind of like my own budget woes. The things I view as absolute necessities are things that other people see as wasteful. The things I couldn't possibly cut are things that others live without every day.

I'm sure the volunteers feel the same about their barbecue, and so do the people who somehow swallow up that $15,981 before my friend can buy supplies for her classroom.

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