Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.

You’re talking about the jobs of the future there, the sort of skilled people Maine needs most.

But, at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel, they are the teaching positions of the past.

More than 100 residents Monday night took nearly two and a half hours to work through a very contentious cost-cutting budget for SAD 44.

Voters had a choice, through an amendment, to reinstate three middle-school teaching positions, including a social studies teacher and a half-time math instructor, by adding back in $160,000.

Motion defeated, 55-48.

Another resident motioned to add $85,000 to allow reinstatement of just the middle school math and science teachers.

Motion defeated, 67-57.

And so it went in Bethel. The final toll: five teachers, two education technicians, two custodians, 2½ secretarial positions, one maintenance worker, two food-service workers and a half-time transportation position.

And so it goes across the state, as school district after school district, town after town, cuts workers and services, math teachers and recreation programs, police officers and firefighters.

It’s not about efficiency anymore. It’s not about cutting fat from public budgets, if that’s what you’re thinking.

No, it’s just the sound of a nation becoming poorer. Period.

We could afford these things yesterday; today, we cannot. The economy collapsed. Sorry, kid.

Local government, probably the most tightly run level of government, is taking it in the neck, in little towns and school districts across the country.

Trouble, you know, runs downhill.

It makes sense to be angry. But the cast of villains is so large and the plot so infuriatingly complex.

Banks in faraway places making crazy loans to people who couldn’t afford them. People taking loans on homes they should have known they couldn’t afford, hoping to flip their McMansions for a profit.

Wall Streeters blinded by the size of the next bonus check, failing to appreciate the risk of complex financial instruments they couldn’t understand.

Politicians willing to drop long-standing regulations, betting very smart businesspeople had enough restraint and brains to look out for their own self-interests. Regulators pushing down interest rates to keep the boom going.

Greed, again — in the form of a giant housing bubble — brought down the economy.

But haven’t we seen this movie before? The S&L crisis of the late 1980s cost taxpayers $1.24 billion and led to the 1990-91 recession.

Yet, this time, there are so many actors and moving parts that the cause of this collapse is still impossible for an ordinary person to fully comprehend.

Most of us neither profited nor did anything to abet this disaster. We kept on making the car payments on our used cars and the mortgage payments on our modest homes.

But, brother, we are all now paying the price. In communities across the U.S., we will be paying more in taxes and getting fewer services.

Blame Republicans. Blame Democrats. Blame bankers or underwriters. Blame anyone you want.

In the end, a kid in Bethel still won’t have a science teacher next year.

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