If your community was accused of being “child and family friendly,” would there enough evidence to convict? This question poses an interesting challenge for those of us living in the RE-1 Valley School District.
In general the community of Sterling has done an excellent job providing opportunities for children and their families. We are blessed with excellent recreational opportunities, the best parks anywhere in Colorado, programs like Baby Bear Hugs, the Family Resource Center, Hospice of the Plains and many others that seek to fill a specific niche for those in need.
However when it comes to education, I’m not sure that there is currently enough evidence to “convict” our community of being advocates for children and their families. Over the past few years, the “negative factor” imposed in the state funding formula has reduced funding in our school district by fifteen million dollars, and even though this message has been, proverbially speaking, “shouted from the mountain tops,” the result of last year’s mill levy override vote was a resounding “No.”
At a recent school board workshop, Chris Connor, one of the leaders of Citizens 4 Education provided a terrific analogy that he had used when discussing these cuts with a local farmer who was reluctant to vote for the mill levy override that is on this November’s ballot. Chris said, “Imagine that you’ve sold your crops at market but when you get your payment, it’s 20 percent less that you’d been told.” The farmer responded, “Well that wouldn’t be fair.” Of course it wouldn’t, but that’s what’s happened in Colorado.
Amendment 23, passed in 2000, was an amendment that was supposed to “guarantee” stable funding for our schools. Due to a number of factors however, this hasn’t come to fruition, and school funding in Colorado on a per-pupil basis is now in the bottom ten of all the states, in spite of Colorado’s robust and growing economy. As a cost-cutting measure, nearly half the school districts in the state have now gone to a four-day week, and while some folks support this for a variety of reasons, common sense would suggest to us that the fewer days children are exposed to quality education, the more their learning will suffer.
Here’s the thing my friends— we’ve never let the “State” destroy our vision for a strong community. The state of Colorado isn’t working to revitalize downtown Sterling; we are. The state of Colorado doesn’t care that we have quality medical care and terrific medical facilities; we do. The state of Colorado isn’t providing funding for programs such as Cooperating Ministry of Logan County; we are. In fact most of us support the notion of “the more local control, the better.” We eschew unfunded mandates and believe that we know best when it comes to running our own community, our own lives (and our own businesses.)
In that vein, we have the opportunity to once again assert our “values” relative to our community by voting for the mill levy override in the November election. And assert our values we will. We will either stand tall and pass the mill levy override, or we will forever relegate the role of public education to the status of “not that important.”
One of the most disappointing things I heard at the recent school board workshop was regarding the role that local teachers have played in helping the mill levy override vote campaign. In response to a question about their involvement, Connor stated that the group had received “a very good response from very few.”
For those seemingly few educators that are actively giving of their time to promote the value of additional funding for our schools, thank you. For those that aren’t, shame on you. At the meeting, which included the opportunity for those of us attending to weigh in, I pondered aloud what the teachers’ response would be if they realized that they were going to get a 5 percent reduction in pay if the mill levy override vote didn’t pass.
Although my question was mostly tongue-in-cheek, I remain astounded at the apparent lack of positive engagement among our local teachers. If anyone knows the difficulties that a lack of adequate funding creates, it should be our teachers. I realize that to some extent, their lack of involvement may be a “no-confidence” vote in the school board or the administration, but to me that’s akin to “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
When it comes to raising taxes, none of us is thrilled with the prospect. My taxes, especially on my irrigated farm ground, will see a significant increase if the mill levy override passes, and while I wish the state would just fix the funding mess, I don’t think that’s going to happen — it’s up to us to ensure the future of our children’s education by voting “yes.”
The jury is still out relative to our “conviction” of being a community that supports children and their families. There will never be a better time to send a positive message about how we value education. I’ll be voting “yes” on the mill levy override vote. I hope you’ll join me.
Tom Westfall teaches parenting classes at Family Resource Center.