The Math of School Heartbreak in Levittown

Michael Sokolove

WHEN he first introduced cuts at a public meeting last month, Samuel Lee, the superintendent of the Bristol Township School District, was plainspoken and direct. He did not say that everyone would pull together and the children would get the same great education, but, rather, that worthy programs would be dismantled and young teachers would lose jobs. “Everything that is going to be presented tonight is not good for our kids,” he said as about 300 teachers, parents and students looked on. “We are heartbroken.”
I grew up in blue-collar Levittown, and have written about it several times for this newspaper as a window into national sentiment. The community was deeply skeptical of Barack Obama early in 2008, then voted for him in huge numbers in the fall. In 2010, the local Democratic congressman was turned out of office amid a wave of national anger over the economy.
Over the past several weeks, I have watched as local officials and community residents confronted a budget shortfall that threatens to reverse hard-won gains in schools that once performed poorly. But I did not hear much of the polarization, argumentation and point-scoring that the cable news universe reflects as the totality of our civic discourse. In Levittown, this time around, the mood is one of sadness, loss and resignation. “We’re all struggling in this community,” W. Earl Bruck, an electrician, and chairman of the board’s budget committee, told those at the meeting. “I can tell you that I’ve been out of work for 56 weeks.”