In the 1949 movie "The Third Man," a famous scene on a Ferris wheel takes place in post-war Vienna. One man, Harry, tries to convince another man, Holly, to join his black market penicillin ring. Harry peddles "watered down" penicillin; in a meningitis-stricken community with a penicillin shortage, Harry's "business" thrives. But children given Harry's penicillin become cripples. Or worse.

While at the top of the Ferris wheel, Harry points out children, far below them, running about and asks Holly, "Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really ... tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?"

As lawmakers, stakeholders and civic leaders decide what type of contracts to enter into on the behalf of us, the people they represent, we find ourselves in the amusement park in "The Third Man." Only we are not the ones at the top of the Ferris wheel.

We are the dots.

Due to the necessity of calculating needs, COVID cases and deaths are reduced from their human representations and consigned to numbers. To dots.

What is the value of each dot? Is it £20,000, as in the movie? Is it $13,847 per public school student?# Is it $600 per week extra unemployment benefits?

Who decides? Those at the top of the Ferris wheel.

In Albany County School District 1's first release of its reopening plans, stakeholders gave the impression that each dot represents a person. Oftentimes a little person, for that matter. With the release of the second set of plans, though, it appears each dot became $13,847 of federal funding.

The intent of this letter is not to convey naivete. Money is required to educate children (our little dots). Choices made by leaders may guarantee the right amount of funding is secured. Choices made may guarantee, though, there won't be as many moving dots in the end.

What is the inherent worth of each dot? Those at the top decide.

(*, estimated in 2017-18 dollars)

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