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I know it is considered untoward to call this economic mess a depression.  Recession sounds so much less scary.  But, as the crash picks up speed (You didn't really think the worst was over, did you?) those of us out here in the hinterlands are seeing the reality.  That reality goes far beyond Morning Joe posturing about Obama's failure, and Gregg's embarrassing stupidity.

Some of you know that I live in the Virginia 5th Congressional District.  As I have reported, over the years, the sprawling 5th is largely composed of rural counties, a shattered tobacco culture, a lot of Confederate flags, and acres of timber being harvested to feed the kids.

One of the things those of us in the Southside part of the district have always been very proud of is the school system.  Visiting foreign dignitaries have frequently been brought here to see the system in operation.  Forward looking, inventive, and always able to do more with less, the staff and teaching personnel have been held up as a paragon of grit and skill.

Well, the end may well be nigh.  The News Observer [in Charlotte, North Carolina], reported this morning that the budget for the[ir] fall term will require massive layoffs.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are now looking at cutting more than 1,200 jobs - 500 more than the superintendent outlined two weeks ago - and some board members say across-the-board pay cuts may be needed as well.

At a special meeting Thursday, the school board heard about an ever-worsening financial picture. Superintendent Peter Gorman said the current worst-case scenario would leave CMS $85 million to $100 million short of what it needs to keep services steady while opening six schools in August.

"There are going to be reductions beyond what we've talked about that are going to hurt big time," board member Tom Tate said.

And the cuts will be across the board.

Teachers, teacher assistants, assistant principals, central-office staff and school security guards are among the categories that could face cuts. In the past, Gorman has avoided layoffs by eliminating vacant or frozen jobs. But he said Thursday there aren't nearly enough vacant jobs to cover the next round of likely cuts, which would take place in the summer.

Board member Trent Merchant said even a 1,200-job reduction in the district's 19,000-member work force won't be enough if county and state money come up as short as some officials are projecting.

There are three issues that bring this home to Southside.

  1.  The population of school aged children is growing, albeit slowly.  Reducing the staff will reduce the educational experiences of our children significantly.
  1.  Luring good teachers to this area has always been a difficult assignment.  We are isolated by distances and culture from much of the modern world.  When we get good teachers and administrators, and they relocate to Southside, buy homes, and settle in, then tend to stay because of the support system in the schools.  But, they will not be able to stay without work and there is no other work in the area to take up the slack.
  1.  The mills have closed, the shops have closed, the library has not purchased new materials in 4 months, doctors and pharmacies are shuttered, and now, the threat of reducing the best hope of growing this area, a dynamic school system is being eviserated.

There have been quite a few diaries by those who have spouses and family lose their jobs.  There have been diaries about very personal job loss, and the fear and desperation created by the threats.  Now we can start to see the effect on whole communities and regions outside of the Rust Belt, and mid-West.  

Economic models that claim to register recessions or depression, after the fact, may be of interest to the Talking Heads.  They may provide a day or two of breathless chatter for the cable news outlets.  They may, in their cool detached way, signal that something is wrong.  But when schools begin slashing teachers and principals, School Boards in an already highly consolidated system begin to whisper of closing facilities, and the budget for next year is so stressed that personnel are being axed, and an entire system is hunkering down to withstand the coming crisis, perhaps a little fear mongering is overdue.

Update:  As two comments have noted the sited article refers to the North Carolina schools system, near Charlotte, NC.  I accidentally deleted an entire paragraph, blockquoted, below:

Although occurring in North Carolina, the exact same thing is happening in the Charlotte and Micklenberg schools systems here in Virginia.  We are much smaller, and the job cuts of 134 personnel is equally devastating.

Thanks for pointing out the confusion.  I hope this makes it clear that I was using a disaster in North Carolina to highlight a disaster in Southside.

Originally posted to Granny Doc on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 07:02 AM PST.

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