Letter to the Editor: Mid-Prairie School Board President addresses recent election issues

Posted 3/25/99

“New textbooks ready for schools ran the heading to a story in the Cedar Rapids Ga…

By Kalona News

To the Editor:

“New textbooks ready for schools ran the heading to a story in the …

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Letter to the Editor: Mid-Prairie School Board President addresses recent election issues


“New textbooks ready for schools ran the heading to a story in the Cedar Rapids Ga…

By Kalona News

To the Editor:

“New textbooks ready for schools ran the heading to a story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette last Sunday. Cedar Rapids middle school students received much-needed new science textbooks and the elementary students will have new math books next year.”

“Passage of an instructional support levy has enabled the schoo] district to get back on a five-year replacement cycle for all grade levels and subjects,” said Associate Superintendent Tom Micek." (March 21, 1999, page 18A)

Not here. Mid-Prairie voters have turned down for the second time an instructional support levy. Only 20 percent of the eligible voters turned out. I'm told, but by a margin of 2:1 they “handily” defeated it, as one of our local headlines put it.

This is a serious blow to public education here. Now, instead of thinking about how to best expand the educational opportunities of our students, we will be forced into finding equitable ways of reducing their horizons.

A friend of mine who does not live here remarked on the news that it is simply another manifestation of the increasing lack of support for public schools that we are seeing nationally. It seems particularly true here where there are so many nonpublic forms of schooling going on.

To me, having been here nearly since the beginning of the district (I began teaching here in 1961), this seems like a turning point. Public education in our area lost a lot of ground last week. And this is just the beginning, for the loss will make us worse, not better.

It looks like about $200,000—300,000 will have to be cut out of the general fund budget for the 1999-2000 school year. These cuts inevitably will lower the quality of our services, increase complaints and undermine further public support for our schools. We will be limping, not leaping, into the new millenium.

I had hoped that the voters would continue to meet the growing needs of the school system, that when they heard there was a financial problem, they would get informed about it and help get it solved.

Instead, 80 percent of the voters stayed home. But who knows: maybe a bigger turnout would have produced a bigger loss.

School board service is certainly a challenge. Even though you are driven by altruism to provide the best education possible for the kids, and even though you try to get the public to join you in that enterprise, somehow you fail. There is a great need for better communications between the board and the people of this district.

(And for those folks who somehow had the idea that the $40,000 in the budget for the school board was for the salaries of the board members, and I am not making this up, board members do not get paid. Instead, somehow or other we are told, it is from this line item that all the paper used by the district is purchased! I hope no one voted against the levy because the salaries of the board members were too high!)

Budget hearings in this district are almost always unattended by the public. No one shows up when we are considering major spending questions. We have to struggle to get people to look at our financial situation, to advise us on our goals, and to help us make decisions on new programs. In my time on the board, most of the time we just sit there by ourselves.

If you want a strong public school system (and many do not) that reflects your hopes and dreams, your beliefs and prejudices, you must participate more in the mundane, boring, mind-boggling month-to-month complicated stuff that is the essence of a public school district's financial life.

The public schools must educate all who qualify for its services, and must bring in those who are not being otherwise educated. It is a vital part of way of life. Voting to limit the ability of the public schools to perform its mandate when there is genuine need for more funds to do it, may feel good to you for one reason or another, but in the real world, all it does is hurt the children.

So, now we embark upon the very unpopular task of reducing the educational program of the Mid-Prairie School system. Does anyone envy us our task?

I'm sure we will try to do it as fairly as possible, always with the end in view that we must do all we can for our students with what we have.

I expect the board will provide many opportunities for the public to help us with this task. I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities. The board will meet at 7:30 p.m. on March 29th to consider the size of the shortfall, the goals in recovery, and the process for decision-making. Be there if you have an opinion or idea on how we can save money.

Finally, don't come away from this letter with the impression that you failed and that the school board did not fail. We failed, too. We failed in that we did not try hard enough to get more public involvement in our decisions. We must do better.

I suggested at the last meeting that the board study our district communication practices and develop a better system of communicating with the public, the staff and the students. Please help us with this. Why is there such a gap between how the board sees things and how the public sees things? Let us resolve to communicate better.

We have all failed our students this time. Let us see how we can work together to make things better.

-Tracy Anderson President, Mid-Prairie Board of Education