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More cops, fewer teachers. Ashland has gone sideways

My children were both born in Ashland. As they started getting bigger, my wife and I had big decisions to make. Do we move somewhere that’s less expensive with less-strong schools? Or do we make a sacrifice to try and stick it out in Ashland? We chose to stick it out, barely squeezing into a small home with a big mortgage.

My son, Carter, is now 8 and in the second grade. My daughter, Azalea, is almost 6 and this year started kindergarten.

That came with some much-needed financial relief. The $500 preschool bill opened things up, and my wife, Jill, started working more. I got a raise. We started paying down some debts. Azalea has the same teacher as Carter did. We walk or ride bikes to school and eat around the same table for most dinners. It feels like the American dream is within reach. A stretch, albeit attainable.

This week I started volunteering in Azalea’s class, and I could tell things were a little different than they were a couple of years ago in the same classroom.

“Tough class?” I asked Azalea’s teacher as we led the students to lunch.

No, she explained. The teacher paused, dropped to eye level with two students who had locked themselves into a physical altercation, and broke them apart. She stood back up.

“They’re all very good kids.”

I made a face that barely stopped short of rolling my eyes.

“No, seriously, they’re all good. I have 26 of them” — which is about 20% more than Carter had two years previous. That was an alarm bell.

Something has gone awry in this little town I worked hard to be able to live in. We have bigger deficits, fewer teachers. And more cops. Ashland has a center dedicated to seniors, but not children. The City Council gave the Police Department over $350,000 for tasers from a company whose CEO makes almost $250 million a year. Meanwhile, my kids’ teachers routinely purchase supplies and snack food for their own classrooms.

And I’m sure the bureaucrats, politicians the administrators have really smart-sounding, academic reasons why it’s like this. Maybe this year is an anomaly, and I’ve provided a very small anecdote from a much larger set of data. But from this vantage, this town has gone sideways.

I’d love creative solutions. Maybe the cops could spend a day of their week volunteering in classrooms to help bridge the gap. If so, I hope they leave their uniforms, firearms, and tasers at home.

Gabriel Howe has been a visitor to Ashland since 1984 and a resident since October 2008.