What About This?

by Wayne William Cipriano

As you probably know because it was reported in the Douglas County Herald, we will have a School Board Election in April. There will be three seats to fill and there are six people running for those seats. All three members are running for reelection and those other three people are looking to replace them.

I’m looking forward to interviews on KKOZ Radio (1430AM; 92.1FM) and in the Herald – interviews where we learn way too much about the candidates’ lives and histories and way too little about their plans for and views concerning our school district. But, even when some plans and concerns are voiced, as several editorials and opinion columns have decried, what a candidate says and what that candidate does upon election may diverge.

Yes, of course, these are politicians, admittedly of a more local variety and therefore, perhaps, more watched by and answerable to Douglas County residents, but still politicians. It may very well be that some or all of the candidates are running to benefit our school district at the cost of their time and energy, receiving nothing in compensation and probably only some of their legitimate expenses reimbursed.

Hopefully, when we experience those candidate interviews and maybe even get to speak with candidates in person we’ll have some idea how each will affect school policy.

Based on my astute political sense (I was one of the first to declare that Hillary Clinton would walk into the Presidency almost without effort) and my history of running for elective office (once garnering six of a possible one hundred votes – all six of which I cast myself), I may not be the political advisor any of these candidates may choose to consult. Still, I’ve been thinking recently of a platform for a school board campaign that appeals to me personally. It is relatively simple and consists of four planks:

  1. Retain the bus transportation system we have
  2. Spend no public funds unless that expenditure can be shown to DIRECTLY enhance educational excellence
  3. Assure transparency of all School Board operations
  4. Finance no new buildings unless the building to be replaced cannot possibly be renovated to endure for a little while longer – economy outweighing efficiency.

1. As you know, I have been kept in the dark as to exactly how our school’s bus transportation system works. For example, it seems that with students graduating, transferring to non-public schools, leaving the district, moving into the district, coming of school age, etc, the bus routes must always be flexing and I do not understand how any one route this year can be stable enough to be salable next year. But, it is not that important that I understand. What’s important is that students get to school and home again safely and spend as little time doing so as possible.

It has always been my belief, buttressed by research carried out by my private community members, and then by a professional study, that the system we now have is both efficient and economical. If there is a system that would be just as safe, just as efficient or even more so, and as cheap or cheaper than the one we have and will continue to be so far the foreseeable future, I haven’t heard about it. But when such a new system is explained to me in detail, I will support it. Until then, our present system seems to me to be safe, efficient, and cheap and should not be tinkered with until all of us, you know, those of us who actually PAY FOR IT, are shown in detail how another system would be better. 

2. Some people move into Douglas County from locales where more governmental services were provided and more taxes were collected. Often you hear how low our taxes are, and almost as often you hear those folks talk about how “a X little more taxes” might benefit this or that governmental agency. You want to ask them, or at least I do, why they moved to Douglas County. We could spend lots more on our schools than we do. It is a continuing national debate that attempts to balance taxes and educational excellence, always looking for a bigger educational bang for that tax buck. And when funds availability seems to be increasing, schools, like all bureaucracies, start agitating for a bigger slice of the pie. Sometimes it is even a good idea. So, how to decide? What if all educational spending in our school district were made the the requirement that every dollar spent would be used to DIRECTLY increase educational excellence and every dollar that did not meet that requirement was retained?

3. Once anyone is elected to office, it’s been my experience that they leave “us” and join “them.” I suppose it is only natural to identify with the “new” group. And that almost invariably becomes embracing the culture and often the silence of that group. Nobody wants to watch sausage being made, and no elected official I’ve ever heard about want to let it all hang out. But you know, this is a republic. We elect people to do the things we do not want to do ourselves, but we need to know what our elected officials are doing so we can evaluate how well our vote was cast. 

So, the third plank in this suggested platform for candidates seeking my vote is : Transparency. I want an elected member of the School Board who will report everything the School Board does promptly, keeping secret only that which would cause the member to be arrested, fined, and/or removed from the School Board by legal action. I’d want that member to respond to each and every question  asked by Douglas County residents, fully and directly. I’d want that telephone answered, not collecting messages. And I’d expect a full and complete report of ALL School Board business, except that clearly forbidden by law, to be promptly provided to any news organization upon request.

4. I has been some time since we taxpayers of Douglas County soundly defeated a measure to build a Cathedral of Learning (a new high school) that would have been built with no input by any of us taxpayers once we agreed to the expenditure – a new high school that was completely unnecessary simply because, as I remember it, there was some State or Federal funding and/or some favorable interest rate on borrowed money that would have paid for some, but by no means anywhere near all of the cost. 

As I recall, the people pitching the new high school were using flashy entrances that we would not get and outdated floorplans (they even had a “computer room”) to entice us into what memory suggests was a fifteen million dollar extravaganza. Now that I write it, it may be that the cost was not that much. Anyone can check that by calling the school. I seem to remember fifteen million dollars, but I agree that seems like a lot of money for a high school with about 430 students and little chance of large student population increases.

Any candidate for the School Board is welcome, even encouraged to use any or all of these four planks: Keep the present bus system,; Reject any expenditure of public funds that doesn’t DIRECTLY enhance educational excellence; Tell us what’s going on: Build only that which is absolutely necessary, Right NOW, even if they promise to put your name on a plaque in the entryway. 

I would look favorably upon any candidate that supports these ideas, and the more they support them, the greater my support, and I wouldn’t care where that candidate was born, where they went to school, whom they married, what church they attend, or what truck brand they prefer. What about you?

Who knows? A successful candidate who says they support such ideas may even remember that pledge after the election and act upon it…stranger things have happened!