In a small town, the school is the centerpiece of the community. It is the biggest employer. It takes care of our children. It hosts many events that bring people together within the community and from outside the community. It provides us with many opportunities in which we can be proud. It also is a target for those who like to complain and a scapegoat for some to blame. Right now our school (and community) are not only getting ready for Easter weekend celebrations, but we are also cheering on the students who are participating at the State competition in Science Olympiad. But storm clouds loom over us too as we are also preparing for a big vote on Tuesday....a bond issue, not to build a new building, but to repair and remodel existing facilities to make them safer and more efficient. There are 2 distinct positions and both are anchored by passionate people who believe they are right. In the end I hope the kids win.
I tried to go to sleep tonight but my mind needed to think, and ultimately write. A very large ad, paid for by the opposition to the bond issue, was published in this week's local newspaper, encouraging my hometown folks to vote an emphatic "NO!" on the bond issue. I read it. Several times. The author of the ad asked some legitimate questions and made some unnecessary complaints that detracted from their message. While I respect their right to hold an opposing view, I feel like supporters need to speak up too. There is no time for a letter to the editor to rebut the ad because the vote is in a few days. So my sleeplessness has turned me to activism in the only way I know how, by publishing a new post on my blog which will be shared on social media. Even if just a few read it, perhaps it will help us emerge from this turmoil with solutions instead of creating bigger problems so that in the end, the kids will win.
Any time a change is about to occur, the solution sought by some may feel like a problem to others. It is important that leaders and stakeholders recognize and honor different perceptions, and make every effort to answer the "why" questions that people have if the desired change is to be realized. Many of the questions raised in the political ad were indeed "why" questions.
I have lived in this community for nearly my entire life. I taught here 28 years too. Probably the most significant thing that could be improved (and doesn't cost anything!) is communication between the school and the patrons. I can tell you that the community elects school board members to make decisions for them, but in all honesty, we (as a school) could do better at being transparent in the thought processes behind significant decisions that are made. That said, over the years, when the school holds informational meetings, they are often poorly attended regardless of the topic, and those in attendance often have a direct tie to the school through employment or as board members. We can all do better at communicating (which includes listening) and if we do, kids will win.
I was understanding of the questions that were raised in the ad in terms of ensuring that appropriate bids (or at least estimates) were gathered and all options thoroughly considered ahead of the decisions that were made. But the biggest complaint seems to be about raising taxes because of the fiscally conservative views held by this group. I sincerely believe the School Board considered their options and made the best decision they could. Many times we have cut instead of raising taxes. Sometimes more "cutting" doesn't "cut it." The school's hands are currently tied as the Kansas Legislature holds them hostage with extraordinary cuts and budget shenanigans. Timing is critical because with the new block grant bill that was just passed, the opportunity to get matching state funds ends as of July 1. If we don't pass the bond issue, then another try in the future will cost us even more money since the state funding option will be gone. As I noted earlier, what some view as a solution, others view as a problem.
Let's look at some history. When the track was built in for use in the 1987-88 school year, it was the show piece of Northeast Kansas. Regular maintenance to keep it that way was was part of the deal. As I was concluding my tenure as Athletic Director in 1998, the track was scheduled to be resurfaced as part of that maintenance plan. It did not happen. Up until then, all the recommendations had been followed. From that point on, the track has had only minimal repairs to cracks and some occasional paint (I was coaching track during this time so I experienced it's decline.) The surface is no longer quality, in fact it has some parts that are dangerous. Area schools are putting in new tracks that have 7 or 8 lanes so they can be used to host Regional Competition, but our proposal was to only repair what we have now (6 lanes). It is a safety issue as well as a responsibility of the school and its patrons to take care of what we own and maintain a quality facility for our students' use. If that happens, then the kids will win.
The roof falls into the same category as the track. At some point, all the repairs that can be done are done and replacement is necessary. I hope we won't wait until the roof is lifting up when the wind blows like the purple gym roof did while I was trying to teach in there before we replace it! I can speak from personal experience on our own barn that if you don't regularly maintain it, then it will have to be replaced. As the old car service commercial used to say, "Pay me now, or pay me later." It is now later. All I really want to see is that the kids win.
The kitchen and lunchroom space has been an issue for many years. In fact the original plan when the second gym was built was to place it next to the purple gym and include a commons area to use for serving lunch. But that didn't happen. The gym was placed in a different location and the kitchen and lunchroom problems continued (and worsened). (Note: The ad says they didn't have a 2nd gym in 1990, but it was in the works then.) Imagine the timing and length of athletic practices and physical education classes now if there weren't 2 gyms? Just because we didn't have it (other things apply here too) when you were in school doesn't mean it wasn't or isn't needed. The fine arts addition was put on to accommodate the increasing number of students participating in those programs and to deal with the acoustical issues that were causing hearing loss for staff members who were in the too small facilities they replaced. Back to the kitchen, the issues with the drain continued to mount and caused the school to use paper plates since before I left and that was over 5 years ago! That is not a good environmental practice and limits what the cooks can serve. It seems to me that if it was easily fixable during the summer, it would have already been done.
Keeping our kids safe in severe weather is another concern and why a safe space is being considered. The time it takes to get students to the basement is too long and not all students fit there anyway (and never have). It is not handicapped accessible without going outside. The ad mentions the inclusion of an elevator or lift. Those aren't cheap and they don't work when the power is out.
Taxes are not anyone's favorite thing to pay. But the investment in our children's education (and the facilities are part of that experience) is the hope and promise for our future. We want people to buy houses and come to live in our community. To do that we have to offer them a reason to come and quality educational experiences are one of the biggest factors. When people come, businesses thrive, as well as the school, which makes the community thrive. The city itself has put a lot on its citizens with a high tax rates and utility costs that are stressful to limited budgets. Perhaps that is a place to start when talking about how to minimize the tax burden. Unfortunately we aren't Johnson County where a sales tax generates a lot of money for schools and can be supported by all those who are consumers not just property owners. Everything costs money, even that very expensive large ad taken out by the "NO" group. It's all about priorities. My priority is with the kids. When the kids win we all win. They will always have my vote.