The wheels of the referendum are starting to spin again

Nicole Lafond wrote an article for today’s News-Gazette:


Nicole presents a number of different perspectives that are worth considering, more so because they are from board members and potential board members. In talking with members of the REWIND group and various board members over the weekend about the Monday night BOE meeting, including a certain inflammatory letter from a certain activist, it is clear that there are a lot of passionate opinions surrounding the referendum. One thing that Jamar Brown said to me that stuck in my mind is keeping the bigger picture in front of us – what is best for the students, and I will take the liberty of extending that to “what is best for our community”. The referendum, especially the location of a new high school, is just one factor among many. But it seems that the referendum, like a magnet, attracts more opinions and passion simply because it hits us in our pocketbook in a way that a more general discussion of “what is best for the kids” never could. Even those that are willing to support a larger referendum if (and only if) it puts a new high school at an “infill” location want to “put their money where their mouth is” and make sure their hard-earned dollars are going towards something they are convinced is “best”.


Yet, what is best? Is there an absolute, or do we all have valid subjective answers to that?


Is it possible we are focusing on the wrong thing altogether?


When students want to hold a protest and have a great idea of how to implement it, our educational culture (the school staff, the administration, the public media, the community members, all of us) are challenged with how to respond appropriately. Some people choose to express anger and/or dismay at students, a driver, teachers, etc, while others uphold those very same people. To me, the entire purpose of public education is to learn how to successfully deal with all those issues. Throwing stones or slinging mud, yelling invectives, stepping on the gas pedal in a crowd of students, none of this is helpful.

When some students are clearly on the pathway to a promising career while others are destined for time in jail, something is clearly wrong. When oppression and dishonesty are seen as the best way to accomplish a goal, something is wrong.


What will it take so that we see each individual student as a brand new book, waiting to be read and explored, nurtured into a wonderful and fantastic story? How do we get rid of prejudices? How do we wrap our arms around other in loving concern when there is pain? How do we create an environment where each child can grow into a successful part of society?


I don’t care where we put a high school. I don’t care how much the referendum costs. IF, AND ONLY IF, the higher priority is making each and every single child successful. And not just at one new school, but all schools in the system.


But why we have so much verbiage, so many articles, so many meetings, so many opinions about a $150 million bond issue to build and renovate schools is because construction is much easier than addressing the deeper, root issues of society. The reason we have so many different responses to the referendum is because we have different ideas of what is “best” and we lack any sort of reasonable cohesion that binds us together.


Back to the article, it is obvious we have capacity issues which make it much more difficult to offer the “best” education to our children. Note that I do not believe capacity issues make it impossible, but I also believe that our hard-working teachers already have enough on their plate, and adding in the additional stress of maxed out classrooms just makes it more likely that students are not getting the “best”. How do we feasibly, responsibly address capacity issues? Note that I ask this question in terms of a potential April ballot question – even if 100 people think one idea is superior, that idea still has to pass a majority vote, no matter how great it is. If the Bambenek and Chalifoux have collaborated to create a “tweaked” referendum that reduces costs and one or both high schools while also including some monies for Dr. Howard, will that get enough votes? It will until someone is able to pitch a better plan.


Here is what I sent to Nicole in response to her questions for today’s article – for me, it is important to get the entire context.


In closing, I will also mention that I was involved in several conversations that reflect Bambenek’s thoughts from the article, about the possibility of Dodds Park. That idea seems to be gaining more momentum, but there is still at least some resistance to Dodds Park. I am in the process of asking some “infill” folks what they think of Dodds Park. Pattsi has told me that is still the “easy” solution and takes a high school further away from the center of community where it is needed most.