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Last resort would be unpopular

The latest local manifestation of the struggling national economy was the Chilton County Board of Education asking all of its teachers to discontinue use of small refrigerators and microwaves in their rooms to cut back on energy costs, The Clanton Advertiser reported Sunday.

According to Superintendent of Education Keith Moore, an Alabama Power official said such measures would save $4,000 a year in Jemison Elementary School alone. With that number in mind, it’s hard to blame Moore and the board for taking this step because the system expects a $4 million cut in state funding this year as a result of a nine percent statewide proration.

Something tells me teachers doing without refrigerators and microwaves won’t be the end of it. This decision won’t necessarily affect students (unless the lack of a way to heat up a meal makes a teacher so angry that he or she becomes more likely to assign homework), but future decisions might.

The Comment Militia our Web site, www.clantonadvertiser.com, has already begun to speculate that a next round of cuts might include less use of heating and cooling and taking an axe to extracurricular activities. As a sports editor, I shudder at the possibility but realize it’s entirely possible. Sports, and other extracurriculars, offer a wealth of lessons for school age children, such as teamwork, discipline and work ethic, in addition to health benefits. But, in times like these, nothing is safe.

Which brings us to the 800-pound gorilla in the education board room. I’ve never even attended a board meeting, but one drastic step has to have at least been thought about: school consolidation.

This isn’t a recommendation, but it deserves mention. Four of the six schools in Chilton County are Class 2A or 1A. Six high schools in a county with a population of less than 50,000 can’t be the most efficient organization possible. Expenses for bus routes, heating and cooling, meals and even teacher salaries could likely be cut dramatically if there were, say, half as many high schools in the county.

The problem is all the fuss such a move would create. Teachers might lose jobs. Graduates still in the area would be furious at the thought of their school sitting empty or being used for a different purpose. But money could be saved without the most important consideration — the education of Chilton County children — being compromised.