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?