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posted: 8/22/2013 5:00 AM

A timely perspective on what happens in schools

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It's hard to believe that whole weeks have passed since we've written or said anything about teacher pensions, even as the state's debt to them accumulates at that now-merely-$5 million-a-day rate.

That will change soon enough -- well, maybe not actually soon enough, since every day without a solution adds those millions to the pension bill, but soon nonetheless -- when lawmakers begin preparing in earnest for the fall veto session and, one hopes, another bite at this rapidly putrefying apple.

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Bracing for that likely contentious debate, I view the "Back to School" series of stories we're publishing this week with a particular appreciation. Some of that, to be sure, is simple gratefulness for the opportunity for reflection on schools that does not involve battling over how to pay for them. But a larger part involves the recognition that these are the stories that matter when it comes to understanding schools in the suburbs -- that, yes, we can't get around topics like budgets, taxes and contracts but what really counts is, forgive the cliché, what happens with kids.

Of all the topics and events we cover, education has always been special to the Daily Herald. That's because it has always been special to the suburbs, almost all of which have been built on the premise that good schools are the central hub around which families and communities grow strong. So, we do back-to-school stories every year; we don't need a political crisis to generate the need for perspective.

But our stories in this series -- which so far have included topics from school bus safety to learning standards and more -- provide a timely reminder of what is at stake in the political tug-of-war over finances.

That is not meant to suggest support for any specific position on the financial issues roiling the state and public schools right now. On that topic, the Daily Herald has been clear and outspoken in its preference for specific solutions that will require sacrifices from all stakeholders. But it is meant to call your attention to these stories about what happens at home and in the classroom to help suburban elementary and high school students gain all the experience and knowledge that engaged, well-managed schools can provide.

They offer portraits both philosophical and practical of what the suburban education experience is, what lies ahead in the coming months for the boys, girls and young men and women we are preparing to assume the responsibilities of citizenship and leadership.

The stories in this one small series don't show all the possible portraits of course. The mosaic is far too complex and dense to capture in a handful of snapshots. But they, and countless other stories we will write about classrooms, teachers and curriculums this school year, do take you beyond the political veneer. They let you see what all the political fighting is about, and, most important, they give you insights into what your schools are doing for your kids and what we all have to consider when it comes to helping them do it as well as it can be done.

So, absorb from these stories ideas about how to prepare your children for learning and about what they will learn. And appreciate the role that learning plays both in children's lives and in the lives of families and communities. Then remember them when the clamor renews over pensions and school budgets -- a debate which, if not coming all too soon, will surely be distractingly loud.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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