Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Other Day When There was Sunshine

I live in a city that can go from the tropics to the frozen tundra inside of one week.

It happens almost within one day. Sometimes, it catches one off guard, they leave home thinking of the warm and fuzzy morning, only to return home in a frigid atmosophere.

The political climate in my little suburb is alot like that.

We  moved here, my husband chose it here because of the community support of the visual and performing arts from illustrators and sculptors to instrumentalists in band and orchestra and dancers. The high academics helped create an atmosphere that fostered learning. Our youngest son graduated from the local high school and is a senior in college. Our daughters are on their way to Carnegie Hall, in middle school, and each is on the honor roll.

So, what was the wind of frosty change in my little piece of America?

It was a combination of the curtain being pulled back from the land of Oz to expose the little man behind the microphone. It was a ruse, a lie, an imagination.

The powers-that-be are scrambling around trying to answer to the public who soundly refuted a tax increase before the concrete is fully set on the swanky new Olympic-sized pool. The press box has barely broken in award winning high school journalism, and the coveted spot as a "destination district" is in danger of ruining many real estate careers.

What happened?

Many folks I've talked with are in small coffee shop hush-hush booths trying to figure out if their high six-figure or seven figure house will sell when the school district starts to implode after already giving teachers a pink slip and sending a sense of dread through the hallways.

There were some who questioned how we got there, who endured reading the emails from the "highest paid superintendent in the region" trying to chastise the parents of the almost 5900 students who walk the halls of the one preschool, five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. Was it the parents' fault that sixty percent, mostly seniors, gave  resounding no to the big ask back in November?

The gray cloud of the sudden temperature change from yesterday to today continues in the halls of academia. Beloved teachers and administrators are retiring so younger (and the few black ones hired) won't lose their jobs. Alumni are sending out facebook messages asking their fellow graduates to send in checks for copies, and the handwringing continues.

Something many are still waiting to hear is if the superintendent, with a package of close to $300,000, will be taking a salary cut. What about the dual income (husband and wife, mother and son, nephew and aunt, etc) in the district will have a cut. Talk circled around the square of the teachers who don't live here but get to send their children here for free, while the desegregation students pay upwards of $7000 to come to the unwelcoming suburbs in search of academic excellence.

Clouds of suspension are all around this Peyton Place.

Why didn't they fully plan for the school year when they made the budget in the spring and summer when they gave the 2.5% increases to teachers? Did they anticipate a November ballot with this being the only issue would ensure victory with lower turnout? Did they understimate the over 65-crowd who hoped to age into their homes and had educated their children here without iPad Minis and swanky swimming pools? Were they so tied up with marketing to the out-of-towners and tearing down affordable homes for McMansions on a crowded street? What was the misguided thing that had them coming for this hat-in-hand while living like they were eating filet mignon?

More questions than answers have filtered all throughout the community, even to the often ignored black population who are tired of the accusatory emails and letters in the newspaper from the board president.  The conclusion is that this certainly means the zero black teachers at the high school won't change any time soon and the 40% of lower income black students performing below a 3.0 will not have any attention this school year or even next.

Has this made them have a come-to-Jesus moment to look at the man-in-the-mirror?

What will it take for them to change their ways?

Will there have to be a tsunami of angry teachers, parents, and alumni?  Will the skewed message of the district being #3 in the state be refuted by the recent declaration that a public magnet school on the other side of the state is #1 in the country? Will the made-up-measurements by a second-rate magazine continue to rule the day? The rankings that were a gimmick on colleges that translated down to public and then private schools have made and destroyed many communities.  Will the funding of education finally be level, fair, and follow the students so that all of them can have a twenty-first education. Or will the shell game continue.

It is frigid outside, a major 40-degree temperature drop in one day.

Just like the chill that is in the air since November and definitely since the students returend from winter break in January.

It has only been one month and it is feeling a lot like the community is frozen.

There isn't a school board election this year, the two that were elected in 2013 filed and essentially walked back on because no one wanted to run in this period of discontent.

Perhaps this would have been the year for someone to actually run and bring the discussion to the community.

Last year was an election and there was a lot of talk about the achievement gap and little about the budget crisis. The powers-that-be seemed to keep that from the public, painting a rosy picture and creating wonderful images of the "destination district" with the ready-family homes for people from other suburbs to relocate to this nine-square-mile town.  More smoke and mirrors, perhaps?

Small town politics have an immediate impact on lives, more important, at times, than the circus that is the current Presidential election. Decided on more than a coin toss or a bunch of people crowded into a midwestern state, what happens here is instant.

So, it makes some of us wonder why there isn't discussion of recalling the board members who were around in 2009 and got us in this mess.  Sure, some of them are not sitting in those seats, one is running for mayor, but there are others.  What about in 2010 or 2011? 2012? 2013 during that contentious election, 2014 when those ladies walked on unchallenged, 2015 when their was an election. Why didn't they put the Proposition on the ballot then? Were they trying to pull the wool over the community's eyes?

Maybe none of it matters, maybe the chill will wear off, someone will dig deep in their pockets and rescue the superintendent, like someone dug deep for the pool, maybe there is another wealthy family waiting in the wings ready to put their name in stone. Or perhaps they are sending their children to one of the toney private schools that dot the sister suburbs.

The other day there was sunshine and a fairly close community that valued the visual and performing arts, that showed up for orchestra concerts and the Turkey Day Game, and that were ok with little Johnny being in a classroom with 24 of his peers, that didn't really want or need five more classrooms so the local teacher,a graduate of the district, would only have to grade 15 papers a night. Maybe just maybe the change will be good for everyone and the superintendent will actually earn all that money in one of the smallest districts in the region.

Until then, put on the heavy coats, it will be freezing for a while.

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