A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, October 25, 2010

A teacher says no to a bond issue

The district in which I reside is asking for voters to approve a bond issue. "It won't raise your taxes!" the fliers trumpet! Ooooohhhh! We'll be able to get a new football stadium and a new Ceeeement pond (that's "swimmin' pool" to you non-Okies) for the Swim Team and all kinds of wonderful stuff. Of course, the fact the the superintendent's kids are swimmers has nothing to do with these priorities. Of course not.

But nonetheless, I am not voting for it.

Not because I don't think it would be great to have our home swimming matches actually at home--I do. Not because the old football stadium isn't leaky and creepy if structurally sound-- it is.

I oppose this bond issue because of the lies within the list of things that they claim will be done. After all the razzle- dazzle, they claim that they will redo the floors of the classrooms and fix the lighting and buy new air conditioners.

But I have lived in this district for over twenty years. And in that time, I have seen four bond issues passed that promised all of these things before. What almost always happens is that the big-ticket items come first in priority, they go massively over- budget, and then the little things get swept under the rug. After all, what the public will be looking for is the Natatorium and the Stadium-o-dreams. Most people who actually go into a school don't always notice the holes in the wall along the thirty-year-old vinyl floorboards which are exactly the color of baby poop. Or the mismatched tiles on the floor which enterprising teachers have covered over with twenty-year-old rickety furniture through which twenty years of butts have rotated. Or windows that are bolted shut because the hinges are missing and panes of glass would go shattering to the ground if teachers tried to open up the windows and let a little fresh air in. They don't look up and notice the bulging, discolored tiles on the ceiling (probably filled with asbestos) which indicate serious leaking issues on the roof. They don't notice the dead cockroaches in the bathroom which the maintenance staff insists are really "water bugs." They don't notice the broken desks, either. Or the rodent feces on the floors.

But I do. I am a teacher.

It's not that I live in a crumbling, urban district. We are a nice, diverse, middle class, suburban part of town. But this school district is run based on abstract expressionism when it comes to appearances: from a distance, it looks hazy and beautiful, but get up close and it's a blotchy mess. And the supervisors of this district from the superintendent on down like it that way. As long as we have that new swimming pool and flashy stadium, people will assume that this is a well-run, affluent place.

But before I see a new stadium, I would like to see a new heating and cooling system set in place so I don't have to worry about the kids with asthma. I would like to see new roofs on the buildings that can be walked upon to get to those cooling systems without creating waterfalls in the classrooms every time it rains or snows. I would like to see investment in new furniture for students and teachers before any more upgrades to the brand new district offices. I would like to see the ducts cleaned and the mice eradicated and holes in the floorboards replaced. Then, and only then, talk to me of swimming pools and three more weight rooms that only benefit one hundred kids in the entire district.

I talked to a principal about the fact that students were sitting in broken desks last year in one of the schools my own kids attend. In response, the maintenance staff threw out all the broken desks over the center. But, as a perfect example of the disconnect, nobody thougt to buy new ones. So the school year started out with massive desk shortages. I guess that was my fault for not just leaving well enough alone.

What does it say about our concern for students that we are not willing to invest in desks for them to sit in and learn in that are actually in one piece? What does it say when we expect teachers and students with asthma to come into buildings where day after day they are exposed to mold and mildew and black gunk blowing out of the overhead vents? What does it say that a stadium that will be used perhaps forty times a year means more than the daily experience of our students in classrooms that are clean and at least as lovingly maintained as the artificial turf in that same stadium?

New desks and cooling systems aren't sexy. But those are the things that should come first, if we stop behaving like kids who want to eat candy all the time. Why aren't these things taken care of in the regular budget process? And don't tell me it's because of the perks the teachers' union negotiates for those lazy teachers, because I KNOW my kids' teachers roll back a hefty portion of their pay buying kleenex and markers and folders and hole-punches and other things that should be provided for them without reams of red tape to discourage them from getting what they and the students need.

But here's the other secret: The stadium and the natatorium will make the older residents of the district happy because it will remind them that they get something from the school district even though their kids are grown. But does it have to be this way? How about if we remind them that a good school district helps maintain their property values? School are more than just community centers. They are supposed to be places of learning for the children of our community.

Why can't we remember that? Why must the real needs of the kids always come in last in the list of priorities?

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4 Comments:

At 10/25/10, 7:30 PM, OpenID lady said...

The middle school/high school/voc-ed school in our 5 town school district recently finished a 5+ year $56 million dollar construction project. (200+ middle schoolers, 1000 high schoolers, plus maybe 100 extra voc-ed students from other towns)
The head of the project will tell you the project didn't go over budget, but the teachers and the building will tell you different. For some reason he doesn't understand the difference between going over budget (ie spending more than you budgeted) and not doing all the things you planned in your budget. Fortunately the air handling got upgraded and the older classroom got fire magnets and auto-closers. However, the auditorium that was supposed be worked on the first year was put off till the end and was hugely shafted. The auditorium has a lovely art deco entrance that should have been fixed up, but instead the architect wanted people to enter through the main building and go up a flight of stairs to a "grand lobby" and then into the old lobby. Only, they ran out of money and didn't build the stairs, so you go into the main building entrance and then walk through a unfinished area with 3 sets of double doors and then up the school stairs then through the "grand lobby". However, this means they have to leave the doors open to the entire building whenever there is a production or concert. It looks crappy and makes it hard for people to find the theater.
There are many stupid things too. The new toilets (new bathrooms and old) are the really noisy low flow ones, so the bathrooms in the auditorium can't be used during performances so you have to go back through the lobby and figure out (no signs) where the nearest bathroom is (down the stairs, turn right, go down the hall). The fire marshall told them to reduce the number of people allowed in the gym from nearly 1000 (possibly no limit) to 350! No pep rallies for my school. The heating and cooling system doesn't work in most of the rooms that are also public spaces and when they do you can't hear anything. The counters in the MS tech lab were put in with keyboard trays, but the trays are too low and bump the kids' knees. But they didn't put in holes or canals to run the wires so the teacher drilled his own. Many of the cinder block walls look like they were put in by an apprentice.
Meanwhile, in the English department they are still using the same crappy tables I used in the early 90s that were crappy then. The chairs are all wobbly. Teachers don't have enough books. And they are doing away with accelerated classes in favor of heterogeneous grouping.

Who makes these decisions? Certainly not teachers.

 
At 10/25/10, 8:28 PM, Blogger OKP said...

Proud of you for saying no.

 
At 10/27/10, 11:00 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

A couple of years ago, there was an episode of COLD CASE on TV. In this show, a teacher was murdered, circa 1980. They had a scene in the dead teachers classroom. As I watched, I noticed something....HEY! THOSE ARE MY DESKS! The same motley assortment of student desks found in my classroom were being used on TV for a 1980 classroom scene.

Maybe some of your students should create a Facebook page with all the horrors they face at school on a daily basis and launch a campaign to fix the administrative brain rot disease....I mean the belief that a swimmin' hole and grassy field are more important than desks, clean air, safe floors and the expulsion of vermin. Get the local news outlets involved....Get some concerned parents.....roll THAT ball downhill to smack those who are supposed to be taking care of our children!

 
At 10/29/10, 12:36 PM, Anonymous Brian Rude said...

Remember the phrase, "Don't sweat the small stuff"? Maybe that phrase is still around, or maybe it dates me. I don't know. The idea was that if you get the big stuff right the small stuff will take care of itself. But I was always suspicious of it, and this post seems a very good illustration. Let's pass a bond issue and build a stadium and pool. That's the big stuff. The small stuff? Well you described that very well. So that seems to confirm my perspective on big stuff and small stuff. Sweat the small stuff like your life depended on it!

This looks like another opportunity to bash ed school. Maybe I shouldn't. I'll have to admit I know absolutely nothing about how principals are prepared in ed school. But I can't help wondering if they don't talk idealistic rhetoric while neglecting the nitty gritty details. I can well imagine your school board grappling hard with all the issues brought to them by the administration, and the administration failing to bring all the issues you mention because they just aren't attuned to them, and they're not attuned to them, at least in part, because of the ed school mentality that has no inkling that such little things are important.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

 

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