Friday, April 16, 2010

More on the Referendums

There's been quite a response to this week's blog entry about the school referendums facing voters in May. I've been repeatedly stopped in local shops this week and gotten loads of emails from people who read it. If you want a little more to chew on - go back to the March entries to the blog and read an earlier comment on the blog.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Referendums: An Open Letter to Noblesville's Retired Voters

Some of the major grumbling I hear about the school referendums facing Noblesville voters this May comes from the older voters.

A frequent complaint goes something like this:

“When I was a kid in school we didn’t have all this equipment or schools built like palaces, and I still got a good education.”

With all due respect to my elders, how about a reality check.

Our schools today are not preparing children for the jobs of the 1950s, ‘60s, or ’70. That’s the education you got. The factory and farming jobs that were waiting for high school grads in that era are largely gone. America’s dominance in nearly every field of endeavor (and the accompanying jobs) has waned.

That was a different economy and a different employment landscape that no longer exists.

So our schools today are preparing children for the jobs of the 2010s and 2020s. This requires lots of computers, high tech science labs and cutting edge audio-visual equipment. Our kids are now competing with children from around the world whose nations, unlike in your youth, have good educational systems and natural resources they are ready, willing and able to use.

And here’s something else our schools have to do that your school of days gone by didn’t have to do: Remember the kids in your youth who you thought of as retarded, or mentally deficient, or just trouble makers? Some of the kids were actually dyslexic, or had Attention Deficit Disorder, or were autistic. The generation of educators who taught and led your schools back in the good ‘ol days didn’t understand these conditions and so they labeled those kids trouble or mentally weak.

Today, thank God, we better understand the conditions these children face and our educational system is required to give them the extra care and attention they need to live productive lives. That requires money and manpower – and we’re a better and more decent community for it.

And the school buildings of your youth weren’t cheap. The Noblesville school buildings used in the ‘30s, ‘40s & ’50 were built during the late Victorian era and early 20th Century during earlier periods of rapid growth. The town could have built barns for you to learn in, but instead they built solid, stately buildings of brick and stone with hardwood floors and quality architecture. There was one at the North Elementary site, another at Seminary Park, another further south at 10th, and a high school where the Boys and Girls Club is now.

Go digging through old newspapers on microfilm in our library from the 1890s, 1910s and 1920s and you’ll find lots of complaints from people about, “these massive buildings,” and, “the lavish waste of taxpayer dollars.”

These are actually your modern-day complaints echoed from your grandparent’s generation.

Thank goodness for you the buildings got built and the teachers got paid. And if you’re temped to start pining for a long-gone era when teachers were paid less and had fewer benefits, recall too that the retired folks in that same era didn’t get Medicare or a taxpayer financed drug benefit. So if you’re going to ask school employees to go back to that earlier world, are you willing to go back with them?

But, “Why do they have to spend so much money?” really is a reasonable question to ask; one our school leaders have answered pretty well if you’ll take the time to listen. But just because it’s a reasonable question, doesn’t make it a fair challenge to every expense. Go too far down that path and you end up a person who knows what everything costs, but doesn’t know what anything’s worth.

Retired voter, your parents and grandparents struggled with the same school funding questions you’re facing now. The decisions they made then were financially difficult for them, too. They made those decisions in an era when they had no Social Security, no Medicare, and no taxpayer-funded drug benefits. But they still chose to support schools at a level the world had never seen before, which helped make America the most powerful nation on earth.

Voting yes on the two school funding referendums this May doesn’t offer a free ride for anybody. Our schools have already cut spending dramatically and even if you vote yes, they will have to keep tightening their belts and trying to figure out how to do more with less. An earlier referendum was already shot down – so there’s little doubt school leaders got the message.

The referendums that are before voters in May are not an Us vs. Them proposition. There is no “Them.” It’s all Us. We’re all in the same community and the schools in our community need us to see this financial challenge for what it is – our responsibility.