Over the last month, I’ve heard from many people questioning whether the Key Peninsula is still the same friendly community it was prior to 2020. It does not feel that way to them.
It’s a big question. If you’re anything like me, you may say, “yes” one day and “absolutely not” another. The truth is: I don’t know. My own perceptions are often colored by my mood.
In the before times, I blamed societal change on partisan politics and campaigns on steroids, unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case that gave corporations and labor unions protections equal to actual living people under the First Amendment. The resulting increase in campaign spending has skyrocketed. Money talks.
For the last three years, I blamed Covid, social media and mind-numbing graphic violence portrayed solely for entertainment. I blame the players in the pharmaceutical industry for unleashing an epidemic of drug addiction. I blame the soul-grinding force that is poverty.
But most of all I believe what disturbs so many of us is a side effect of polarization. I avoid using the words “extremism” or “radicalization” here, despite both prevailing in the politics of today because the words only serve to fuel more of the same.
During the worst of the pandemic we saw the politics of anger and frustration affect the entire medical system. While it may have started with Covid, the effects of an overburdened health care system on understaffed, overworked and stressed-out care providers at practically every level have driven health care professionals — including doctors and nurses — to leave the profession entirely. It only worsens the problems.
The same is true in public education, where the battle rages on. And who suffers the most? An entire generation of children, the very human beings we want to protect and defend.
The situation is poised to worsen in school districts across Washington State, where overall enrollment has declined from 2019 levels, followed by state funding.
Peninsula School District states its projected enrollment for the 2023-24 school year to be down roughly 500 students out of 9,000 from pre-pandemic levels.
During the Covid emergency, Washington state continued to fund public schools per student based on pre-pandemic enrollment levels. Now that the declared Covid emergency has passed, funding levels will return to current enrollment numbers.
The PSD board of directors approved a resolution to reduce educational programs and staffing for the 2023-24 school year at its regular business meeting March 23.
“School districts across our state are funded primarily based on enrollment and are also having to make similar adjustments to their budget,” said Board President Natalie Wimberley, according to a statement from the district. “Increasing costs such as transportation and recent legislative changes have further impacted education funding.”
Yet for all the problems, when I speak to people across the political spectrum we are not as different, divided or demented as the politicos make us out to be.
I still believe with all my heart in the people who live here, on the KP; people who work and volunteer to make life better for all of us. Our community cares deeply. When it comes to hunger, for example, personal politics become irrelevant. Nobody cares about politics when it comes to seeing that families have food to eat and medical care.
Just walk into Key Peninsula Community Services and talk to Willow Eaton or Kyong Bertsch. Talk to Zaida Woodworth and Michelle Johnson at Food Backpacks 4 Kids (see page 13). Visit Communities In Schools of Peninsula, The Mustard Seed Project, The Red Barn Youth Center.
The long winter has passed, and the days ahead are where our community really shines. We go outside, we garden, we play, and we laugh. The petty grievances fall away whenever we engage with one another.
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