Inside the Capitol

Thursday, October 27, 2011

10-31 Post office closings hurt rural America

103111 post office closings

SANTA FE – The U.S. Postal Service study on closing some 3700 post offices in the nation poses a real crisis for rural America. The problem is an $8 billion budget deficit. New Mexico has 54 of those target post offices. Hearings currently are being held to determine which offices should be cut.
Rural post offices are more than just a place to pick up mail. They are locations to congregate and see your neighbors at the appointed time when the mail truck is scheduled to arrive. Driving to the nearest open post office can take hours and be impossible in the winter.
The only thing worse is losing a school house. School closings began in New Mexico in the late 1940s. World War II changed much about our culture. Increased industrialization and a how-do-you-keep-'em-down-on-the-farm syndrome weakened small towns.
New Mexico had over 600 school districts at the time. That was pared down to 90 districts over a decade. Since that time, many remaining districts have had to close rural schools. It hasn't been pretty.
During the time that over 500 districts were being closed, the elected state Board of Education was the villain. The board members really didn't see themselves in that light. Science and technology was taking hold of our society and small schools were seen to be deprived if they didn't have chemistry labs and couldn't offer a broad curriculum.
The rapidly escalating Cold War and Russian space challenges prompted school faculty to encourage brighter students to prepare for science and engineering degrees.
But rural schools were the hearts of their communities. That's where people gathered. Basketball and sometimes six-man football were popular. That included girls' basketball teams.
Communities like Virden and Forrest won state basketball championships back in the days when all schools, regardless of size, played in one division.
I watched Virden, led by the rangy Merrill brothers, play during their two championship seasons. To get a 10-man traveling squad, they had to dip down into the junior high grades. Several of the Caton family from Forrest became friends and state leaders in later years.
The small schools were producing a good product and with 100 percent graduation rates. And they still are doing a good job, as documented by Think New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based think tank.
The organization currently is lobbying for a return to smaller schools, citing better attendance, graduation and test performance in the remaining small schools of the state.
The main reason is that the small communities are close. Students don't fall off radar screens. Everyone is interested in everyone else's children.
Rural residents tried to explain to state Board of Education meetings the good reasons for keeping their schools open. But, curiously, the only ones who seemed to succeed were those represented by powerful legislators.
Now those students ride a bus for hours each day. They can't stay in town for after school activities. Many are lost in big student bodies. And it was all in the name of giving them a broader education.
There was some thought of it being cheaper but Think New Mexico has come up with figures disputing that notion.
Let's hope that in the hearings on closing rural post offices, creative ideas can be developed that will prevent the rush to judgment we saw with the closing of small school districts 60 years ago.

Today is Halloween. Despite efforts to curb its celebration, it sells more costumes, more decorations and more candy than any other holiday of the year. So have fun.
Tomorrow is 11/1/11. Imagine the people getting excited about those numbers and all they might symbolize. County clerks report more marriage licenses than usual issued on such days.
This day may be even more special because of the unity theme symbolized by the numeral 1. And coming up in 10 days is an even bigger cause for celebration -- 11/11/11.


Post a Comment

<< Home