Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
For nearly 12 years now, I've attended school board meetings on a regular basis - about 125 so far. It's been a very educational (pardon the pun) experience.
Here are some of the important lessons I've learned:
* No single individual can revolutionize how things are done, or control what happens.
* Running a school district has very little in common with running a business. Throw out all common sense when dealing with government-dictated programs.
* The "product" of schools is students. The state sets the quality standards of that "product" and what price it will pay (regardless of actual cost). Payment is often cut, temporarily or permanently, and is often delayed, sometimes for years. All of this is out of the control of school districts.
* While much of what goes on at board meetings seems mundane or boring, there are painful discussions and decisions to be made.
* Many board members take their roles very seriously and agonize over these tough issues. It's a bit like watching King Solomon threatening to split the baby in order to please both mothers.
* When it comes down to it, the good of the students trumps all other concerns.
* Much has changed in the past 12 years with school districts, the economy, and government. What we may have understood 10 or 20 years ago doesn't really apply any more.
*; School districts are the only taxpayer-supported entity that has to ask its taxpayers to raise their own taxes. Cities, counties, state and federal governments, all can raise your taxes to pay for what they deem necessary.
* Rural schools are most affected by the uneven school funding system in practice in the State of Minnesota. While suburban schools whine about having to cut fourth-grade orchestra, rural school boards have had to face tough choices like four-day school weeks, cutting extracurriculars, eliminating bus service, and even cutting sports and physical education (which are not required by the state for graduation).
* The State of Minnesota and its Department of Education can be counted on to over-regulate and underfund just about everything. Other than that, you can't count on much.
* School teachers and staff have been incredibly creative in finding ways to keep education interesting and effective given the cut-cut-cut realities they face.
* Cooperation is increasingly necessary, between schools and their communities and between communities in a region. The days of happy isolation are long gone.
* Teachers are hard-working people who truly love what they do and care about educating children. They are licensed professionals; having a college degree is not enough to teach. If you ever think they might be overpaid
babysitters, I dare you to spend a day shadowing a teacher in any grade. (And I'd bet you don't last the day.)
* Successful schools are much more than teachers and administrators. They include paraprofessionals, staff, custodians, bus drivers, parent and grandparent volunteers, community volunteers, and supportive state representatives. And, of course, motivated students.
* Technology is a key component of education today, even in the earliest grades. But technology from two years ago is outdated; 10-year-old technology is nearly useless. It can cost more (in dollars, time, and security risks) to keep an old system running with duct tape and chicken wire, so to speak, than to keep up with current technology.
* We want our students to go into the world and be the best they can be: farmers, nurses, teachers, doctors, artists, or whatever. They need more than books. They need motivation, a chance to succeed, and a feeling of pride in their achievements, their school, and their community. They need to know the community supports education, and supports them.
* There is no quick, cheap fix.
* Delaying needed facilities repairs, maintenance, or upgrades almost always costs more in the long run.
In the case of Eden Valley-Watkins, they could have completely new buildings for a mere $30 million. That's not what they're asking. They need sufficient permanent classrooms for their growing class sizes. They need a new gym where athletes don't smash into a wall at the edge of the court. They need a stage for a variety of drama and music and community events. They need to have a single entrance and exit point at the high school, for security reasons. They need updated technology. They need the bathrooms and elevator at the high school to be handicap-accessible.
The Eden Valley-Watkins school district has been able to spare painful cuts to their programs and staff by delaying work on their facilities. That can't be put off any longer.
This is the responsible choice. It is a conservative choice. It's the least expensive choice. Now it's your choice.