Political Animal


August 24, 2011 11:25 AM When schools are forced to rely on sheep

By Steve Benen

ThinkProgress flags an odd story out of Pennsylvania, where Republican officials have already slashed education funding. In one area, cash-strapped schools are now using sheep, instead of lawnmowers, for lawn care.

Rather than spend money on cutting grass, the Carlisle School District has brought in 7 Romney sheep to tend the fields. “They’ve done a good job so far,” says Superintendent John Friend.

The sheep come free of charge, since they belong to the principal of the middle school. Friend estimates that they will save the district about $15,000 this year in mowing costs.

You know, nothing says “21st century global superpower” like schools turning to sheep because they can’t afford lawnmowers.

I often think about a story President Obama told a while back, after he returned from a trip to East Asia. He shared an anecdote about a luncheon he attended with the president of South Korea.

“I was interested in education policy — they’ve grown enormously over the last 40 years. And I asked him, what are the biggest challenges in your education policy? He said, ‘The biggest challenge that I have is that my parents are too demanding.’ He said, ‘Even if somebody is dirt poor, they are insisting that their kids are getting the best education.’ He said, ‘I’ve had to import thousands of foreign teachers because they’re all insisting that Korean children have to learn English in elementary school.’ That was the biggest education challenge that he had, was an insistence, a demand from parents for excellence in the schools.

“And the same thing was true when I went to China. I was talking to the mayor of Shanghai, and I asked him about how he was doing recruiting teachers, given that they’ve got 25 million people in this one city. He said, ‘We don’t have problems recruiting teachers because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions. ‘

“That gives you a sense of what’s happening around the world. There is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology and learning. That used to be what we were about.”

And here in the U.S. of A., Republican officials are slashing education funding and schools are turning to sheep.

Winning the future? Not so much.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • pyewacket on August 24, 2011 11:31 AM:

    I agree with your overall sentiment. But I think the sheep are kind of brilliant. For one things, kids love animals. Sheep don't make horrible noise like a lawnmower, they provide instant fertilizer, and the grass becomes part of a ecological system, feeding an animal, rather than being towed away and wasted (or, one hopes, composted). Throw in the chance for a shearing demonstration or lessons on the uses of public commons for grazing or something like that, and I would say that sheep are a much better choice than a lawnmower.

    Doesn't excuse neglecting public education, though.

  • Hedda Peraz on August 24, 2011 11:32 AM:

    This is the result of Obama paling around with communists, instead of staying home and tending to business.
    If he had listened to our instructions to 'drill baby, drill' we would be grilling lamb chops on our propane powered BBQ.

  • max on August 24, 2011 11:33 AM:

    Another great GOP idea. I guess Forrest Gump was unavailable to mow the lawn for free. We should all raise chickens in our back yards to pay for physicians visits when the GOP totally eliminates health benefits of any kind. Bullwinkle, set the Way Back machine for 1890.

  • bluewave on August 24, 2011 11:35 AM:

    What pyewacket said.

  • Viceroy Matt on August 24, 2011 11:36 AM:

    Romney sheep, no less!

  • Lucia on August 24, 2011 11:39 AM:

    pyewacket beat me to it. The principal gets free pasture for his sheep, the grass gets cut, the air stays clean and quiet... it's a win all the way around. (Though I wonder: does the principal also supply a guard dog? Sheep in unfamiliar territory might get munched by coyotes.)

  • gifgrrl on August 24, 2011 11:40 AM:

    You have to admit though - it's a darn nice solution to the problem. And green.

    In my daughters' school, the supply list for the school year includes each child bringing in tissues, paper towels and a ream of paper. In addition to the usual pencils, etc. Cuz, ya know, those teachers make too darn much money!

  • Walker on August 24, 2011 11:40 AM:

    I think your complaints are misguided this time. Sheep are very much a sustainable solution to mowing. They don't rely on gas to run and have other economic benefits. We will see more solutions like this in the future as the change in energy costs force us to be creative.

  • Gummitch on August 24, 2011 11:48 AM:

    Here in Oregon there are a number of flocks of goats available for keeping lawns trimmed. They do a great job, especially on heavily-overgrown vegetation, and the breeds are chosen because they don't rip up the roots.

    No fossil fuels are burned but I suppose that is some goat flatulence. And goats are cute.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 24, 2011 11:48 AM:

    Unlike these Oriental heathens, we Americans know that teachers are the enemy!

    We're number won!

  • Larry Miller on August 24, 2011 11:49 AM:

    Use of sheep and goats for land clearing and maintenance is becoming more and more common. This story should have been researched a little.

  • stevio on August 24, 2011 11:51 AM:

    Welome to 3rd. World America.

    Soon, cow farts will be supplying heat to these same school. Wild geese and dogs for security, and insect infestations for food removal.

  • Allan Snyder on August 24, 2011 11:52 AM:

    Count me those who don't think this is bad idea at all. I know it's easy to poke fun, but it's eco-friendly. I don't really see a down side.
    Your points about the lack of priority education receives in the U.S. is certainly valid though.

  • SadOldVet on August 24, 2011 11:54 AM:

    This Pennsylvania school district appears to be lining the pocket of a school principal by providing feed for his livestock at no cost to him! Such wastefulness.

    Everyone knows that school districts should not be using sheep!

    They should be using goats. Goats will do every bit as good a job of keeping the grass trimmed. And, they can be milked for use in the school lunch programs.

  • Goldilocks on August 24, 2011 11:55 AM:

    I agree with pyewacket and other who agree with pyewacket. Sheep are great. You know, you can milk them without having to fertilize them (unlike cows, etc); and of course you get wool, hence a whole industry of weaving and clothes making. Splendid idea. Just mowing grass is so wasteful and, dare I say it, bourgeois. Good education.

  • Anonymous on August 24, 2011 11:58 AM:

    Problem with goats, SadOldVet, is that they also eat trees and just about everything else. They need more management, but they are also great.

  • Josef K on August 24, 2011 11:58 AM:

    nothing says “21st century global superpower”

    When was the United States that? Our slide into idiocy began (appropriately) in January 2001 when George W took the oath of office.

    Since then we've spent the entirety of the first decade of the 21st century undoing ourselves. We'll likely finish the job by the end of the second decade.

  • chi res on August 24, 2011 12:00 PM:

    Seems appropriate; most public schools train their students to act like sheep anyway.

  • berttheclock on August 24, 2011 12:01 PM:

    Now, a good Kuvasz, Abruzzese or Pyrenees to walk the fence lines and keep the predators at bay, either a Border Collie or Cattle Dog for herding and a new spinning program for future job creation in the area. Everything old is new again.

  • Brenna on August 24, 2011 12:01 PM:

    You still need to have a sheepherder or two, I'm sure. But the extra money saved should go to teacher's salary. My God, how long before the teaching profession becomes obsolete?

  • Ben on August 24, 2011 12:03 PM:

  • berttheclock on August 24, 2011 12:05 PM:

    Brenna, how true. Bryan Cranston was recently a guest on "Real Time" and said the basis for "Breaking Bad" was to show the lack of health care and low wages for teachers. Not that everyone should become a meth maker, but..................

  • Matt on August 24, 2011 12:08 PM:

    Um, folks, no one is saying sheep are bad, or even bad at lawn-grazing. The point is that the school was in the position of having to come up with this solution, however green and "win all around," in the first place. I mean, should we cut their lunch budget to see if they can genetically engineer a low-cost edible fungus?

    Put another way, some human being just lost his job to sheep. I don't know who cut the grass before, but I'm guessing he could have used the $15,000 the school paid him, and so could the people he paid with that money for goods and services, and so could their suppliers, etc. Sheep won't spend any money.

    If the school were in a position to make rational choices free of ridiculous economic duress, they could have switched to sheep and given the former lawnmower $15,000 worth of work to do elsewhere in the school. Or hired a part-time teacher's aide. Or done a million other productive things with that money that, incidentally, would have kept it circulating in the economy and improved the net quality of the school. But they're not--that's the point.

  • chi res on August 24, 2011 12:10 PM:

    But the extra money saved should go to teacher's salary. My God, how long before the teaching profession becomes obsolete?

    Really, because who in their right mind would want a job that pays $40-80,000 plus health, plus significant time off, plus a good retirement plan?

  • Lynn Dee on August 24, 2011 12:12 PM:

    And the owner of the sheep is getting free grazing. Hmm...

  • Glenn on August 24, 2011 12:14 PM:

    Seems like an elegant solution to me. Jaime Lerner, the visionary leader of Curitiba, Brazil did the same thing on a city-wide scale, getting flocks of sheep to maintain city parks and grounds. The best solutions are not necessarily the most technological ones, but the most creative.

  • Sam Simple on August 24, 2011 12:21 PM:

    Have you ever been around a sheep herd? The smell will be foul at best! All that said, how sad is that we can find trillions of dollars to lend to Wall Street firms to keep them solvent and keep Citicorp and Goldman Sachs bondholders from taking a haircut, but we can't find $15K to mow the frigging lawn at our schools? How pathetic is that?

  • Texas Aggie on August 24, 2011 12:30 PM:

    The observations about sheep vs. goats are interesting. Sheep are much better at grazing than goats are since physiologically, goats were "designed" by the Celestial Committee to be browsers. They are used in South Africa to keep the pastures cleared of invading brush so there is grass for the sheep, and in the US, they're used to keep the lanes where power lines run through forests clear of tree regrowth.

    Sheep are grazers so they would do a better job than goats at keeping things mowed, but granted, goats are a lot cuter and more personable. And they're smart enough to go wandering off and to get into all kinds of trouble.

    This is something that many municipalities have been doing to mow their parks, and decades ago I read an article about a German who leased out her sheep to people and apartment complexes to keep the grass mowed. She refused to let her sheep graze near any mideastern communities because she lost too many sheep.

    I've been around sheep for most of my adult life and can assure anyone interested that they do not smell foul at all even by the most persnickety mother-in-law standards.

  • DAY on August 24, 2011 12:30 PM:

    Sheep graze, goats browse, and apparently most city folk don't know the difference.
    But that hasn't stopped us from pontificating on other subjects we are equally ignorant of, so why should this topic be any different?
    Also, most schools don't really have "lawns"- maybe a patch outside the front door, but most of the grassy areas are playing fields, and no animal will groom it well enough for games. Ever been in a real "pasture"? (Don't slide into second base!)

    All that said, it is a wonderful publicity stunt. Carlisle is in Cumberland County (farm country) and I bet many of the students are in 4H or FFA, and know all about critters and crops and mowing lawns.

  • c u n d gulag on August 24, 2011 12:31 PM:

    What's the difference between using sheep and using voters?

  • DAY on August 24, 2011 12:35 PM:

    It is called a flock, not a herd, and speaking of smell, ever been in a crowed elevator full of humans?

  • exlibra on August 24, 2011 12:37 PM:

    I thought Mitt had only 5 sons. Where did they get the 7th sheep?

  • TCinLA on August 24, 2011 12:44 PM:

    And here in the U.S. of A., Republican officials are slashing education funding and schools are turning to sheep.

    Yesterday in the LA Times I read how in-state tuition at Junior Colleges (which were free when I went to SFCC) has gone from $26/unit last year to $36/unit this year due to a $400 million cut in state support, with the likelihood it will go to $46/unit in January when Jerry the Jerk's rosy glass prediction of state income doesn't pan out (as it already isn't). I thought of how I went to school in California for three degrees, on the slim pickings of the GI Bill with an employed wife, and came out of all that not owing a penny in school debt. Of course, that was also back when the Federal minimum wage was actually the living wage (as in, you could live on it moderately OK).

    I would not wish to be under 30 in this country today.

  • digitusmedius on August 24, 2011 1:05 PM:

    All of Steve's comments notwithstanding, I really like the idea of using sheep to keep grass cut. Much less pollution (atmospheric and auditory) and the bucolic image of sheep grazing around a school yard seems irresistible.

  • karen marie on August 24, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Nothing says "winning the future" like a four-day school week for the children who live in the Irene-Wakonda district in South Dakota.


    Think how much money taxpayers could "save" if we did away with public education altogether.

  • Daniel Kim on August 24, 2011 1:24 PM:

    I had read before about schools asking incoming students to bring such mundane supplies as facial tissue, toilet paper, printer paper, etc. As far as I can tell, these supplies are to be accumulated and stored for general use. I was struck by the object lesson in the efficacy of communism provided by this practice. Everyone brings in supplies, which are administered by a central authority to ensure efficient and equitable distribution. From each (child) according to their abilities, to each according to their needs!

  • Marko on August 24, 2011 1:39 PM:

    Wait a minute, $15,000 to mow the lawn? Wow, must be some lawn!

    Speaking of which, why do schools need such big yards/lawns anyway? Oh that's right, for the kids to play on, sports, etc. So let's connect the dots here. Sheep eats grass, sheep poops, kids play on grass. Hmmm... Sounds like a win-win for everyone but the kids.

  • Six on August 24, 2011 1:50 PM:

    Current urbanite, former ruralite, add me to the people thinking that using sheep to mow the lawn is a pretty good idea in terms of sustainability and cost-savings, although Matt has a pretty good point about the guy who formerly mowed being out a job.

    Oh, and those of us in the real world know that sheep aren't particularly stinky and a lot of rural/suburban schools have a LOT of grass attached. Yeah, there's going to be some "pick up" involved, but hey, high quality fertilizer.

  • Anonymous on August 24, 2011 1:51 PM:

    "7 Romney sheep"

    When I woke up this morning, I was not expecting to read this phrase...

  • Sasha on August 24, 2011 2:17 PM:

    The fact that the school came up with a clever way to save money is great. The fact that the saved money is not being reinvested into the school but is being used to cover a funding shortfall … not so much.

  • ivanafter5 on August 24, 2011 3:39 PM:

    Welcome to teabag America, folks.

  • Jeff on August 24, 2011 3:40 PM:

    Well it is a green solution to the problem, though the structural problem could quite frankly be the antiquated brick and mortar education system. We've had the biggest leap in the dissemination of information and the amount of it freely available in the history of the world during our generation, but we still have kids wait at bus stops, get driven several miles from their homes at large multi-million dollar facilities to be taught the same lesson plans in groups of 25 from the same teachers out of the same school books in hourly and quarterly increments. Why? You could blow the public brick and mortar education system up and offer 10s of thousands of courses micro targeted to fit a child's interest and skills and train them for jobs of the future with a more symbiotic and flexible relationship with the private sector to fill workforce skill requirements that evolve.

  • SecularAnimist on August 24, 2011 3:52 PM:

    Schools should plow up their lawns and replace them with organic vegetable gardens where the students learn how to grow their own food.

  • grape_crush on August 24, 2011 3:54 PM:

    I'm hoping that your post isn't serious.

    You could blow the public brick and mortar education system up and offer 10s of thousands of courses micro targeted to fit a child's interest and skills.

    Playing videogames, chatting with friends, watching teevee, and mastubation don't stirke me as being 'jobs of the future.'

    Not to mention, who is providing guidance to these micro-targeted, symbiotically-private-sector-related children?

    Silly comment, if it's serious.

  • Francois T on August 24, 2011 4:00 PM:

    On top of it all, our governor (Corbett) is ADAMANTLY oppose to any levy, tax or any fee against the fracking industry that is raking in the dough in the Marcellus shale.

    Republican priorities for the USA.
    No wonder this country is going down so fast!

  • DAY on August 24, 2011 4:06 PM:

    Since we have devolved from sheep lawn care to our sorry educational system let me toss this out:

    The "summers off' school year made sense when the kids were helping get the crops in. Now, not so much.

    Let's keep the schools open year 'round, from, say 6AM to 6PM. Free day care for working taxpayers. Teach the senior class- boys and girls- how to care for infants. Some of them may already have one of their own. If not, it will either prepare them for the blessed event, or scare them into abstinence (yay, Perry!), or at least safe sex.

    I believe there is a similar set up in Israel. You know, that country the Evangelical Right is so fond of. . .

  • yup on August 24, 2011 4:10 PM:

    pyewacket hits it on the head - no need to waste money on a lawn mower and create pollution when there's a better solution on hand.

  • Anonymous on August 24, 2011 4:18 PM:

    Schools are failing in this country because of the parents, not lack of funding. If anything, Obama's anecdote proves that good education can be provided for much less than we are paying now. I guarantee South Korea spends less than we do on education per capita. "the teachers are on the same pay scale as doctors". Doesn't matter if you're paying both less than our minimum wage. This article is about as useful as sheep shit!

  • navamske on August 24, 2011 5:09 PM:

    Are they called Romney sheep because they try to pull the wool over your eyes?

  • fiona3399 on August 24, 2011 5:13 PM:

    Let's be sure we understand that we are talking about PUBLIC schools here - you know, the schools where teachers are demonized by the politicians and the money is slashed, and slashed and slashed....uneducated people are much easier to control, AND they will work for min wage or less - just what the Repugs and the corporates want. Rick Perry basically told folks recently that we don't need the federal government if we simply let corporations run everything! what a great solution...oh, wait...isn't he running for POTUS? That means he would have no job either....hmmmm

  • Gridlock on August 24, 2011 5:29 PM:

    From each (child) according to their abilities, to each (teacher) according to their needs!

    Schools should plow up their lawns and replace them with organic vegetable gardens where the students learn how to grow their own food.
    Yes and we should replace science courses with textile mills where the children could learn to spin that wool into fabric.
    And while they're at it, it wouldn't hurt to teach them to be cleanly. I'll bring my car by so they can wash it.

  • Mary Cushing on August 24, 2011 6:20 PM:

    I just heard that in the Bloomfield, NJ school district, teachers are responsible for painting their own classrooms. For years teachers have bought some of their supplies, now this. Great priorities.

  • changa on August 24, 2011 7:03 PM:

    chi res on August 24, 2011 12:10 PM:
    Really, because who in their right mind would want a job that pays $40-80,000 plus health, plus significant time off, plus a good retirement plan?
    I made $28K when I was a teacher, whereas I would've made $40k in the private sector. But yes, it was the decent health insurance that kept me there. Oh wait, I quit and supplement my crappy health insurance with the dramatically better pay I get now.

  • Madsprxy on August 26, 2011 7:05 PM:

    Just thought I'd add that recently a 10 year old from Idaho told me he was afraid to start school because the public school makes him (and the other kids) pay 45 cents to go to the bathroom. He said last year when he did have the money with him, they made him go In his pants. Can you imagine the shame and humiliation this child suggested? And to think that congressional representatives worth 23 million dollars are imposing these sanctions on our children?

  • honeybl on August 27, 2011 3:19 PM:

    chi res on August 24, 2011 12:10 PM:

    But the extra money saved should go to teacher's salary. My God, how long before the teaching profession becomes obsolete?

    Really, because who in their right mind would want a job that pays $40-80,000 plus health, plus significant time off, plus a good retirement plan?

    let's see. most new teachers start at $35K or less a year. You don't get your retirement until you're tenured (if you get tenure at all...and if the school system still offers retirement). you pay part of your health plan premium (just like in the "real world").. you don't get paid for the summer (unless you teach summer school... if your district still offers summer school and didn't cut it because of budget issues).. oh, and you have to provide almost all your teaching and classroom materials out of your own pocket because the district can't afford to buy pencils, paper, pens, etc. for you (like hiring a computer programmer and telling them they have to provide their own computer, programming platfor, etc.). Plus, you have to deal with idiot parents, idiot politicians, and idiot members of the public who think you should be paid less but still offer premium services to their children. Yeah, I can see college grads lining up for *that* job. NOT!

    Honestly, it is shameful how we treat teachers in this country. It is one of the noblest professions, yet they get the most criticisms. My sister is a teacher. My brother is a teacher. They do it not for the money (because the pay sucks!), but for the difference they make in kids' lives. So stop drinking the Rethuglican kool-aid, chi res, and go get a job as a teacher. You'll thank me for it later.

  • jimgo on August 28, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Sheep on the school grounds are a victory, not a defeat - for education, the environment, localism, and energy independence and national trade balance. This is reason for pride, no need to feel sheepish.

  • Sam on August 31, 2011 1:09 AM:

    $3,667,642.33 or 62% of the School budget goes for Teacher Salary, Perhaps there in lays the problem !