Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Take on Election Tuesday

There were two big ticket items on this past Tuesday's ballot: 1st Ward council race and Columbia Schools' levy increase. One result provides a lot of hope for COMO residents. The other only provides more questions.

First of all, I should explain that I mistakenly thought I lived in the 1st Ward and would have an opportunity to vote for the 1st Ward city council seat. Instead, I live in the much whiter, wealthier 4th Ward. I'm more embarrassed than anything. It's made me realize that I need to pay more attention to local politics. Anyway, I had no say in the race, but it does have an effect on the town in which I live.

That said, COMO's favorite indie theater and documentary film festival founder, Paul Sturtz, is the newest member of our city council. This is a great moment for COMO. Sturtz has proven that he can make things happen. Besides his work as a local activist and community leader, Sturtz started up his little, non-profit movie theater and has helped establish True/False as a nationally recognized documentary film festival by collaborating and just making things happen. Besides his drive and work ethic, he is progressive in his ideas of improving the ward and city through economic development that happens from within instead of the crazy suburban sprawl we have now.

I saw Paul Sturtz yesterday after the election. He was walking down the street, picking up his yard signs. A truck drove by and wished Sturtz congratulations. He waved and kept on moving to the next sign. This gave me a good feeling for the near-future of COMO politics.

The not-so-good thing that happened on Tuesday was the school levy failure. Regardless of where people stand on this issue, it does not bode well for the students in COMO. There are many reasons it failed and things the district could have done. Despite the tough economical times, the schools could have done so much more to get this levy increase passed.

The school district has some major PR issues. When it was reported that the new elementary building plan needed a second look in order to improve its efficiency, the assistant superintendent, Jack Jensen, responded, "Our plan is in place, and we will not be making changes." Maybe to you that sounds like steely resolve, to me it sounds arrogant. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of ways in which the school district has ticked off residents.

Another hot issue in the schools is the debate over the math program. I personally support the way Columbia teaches math, but parents are concerned and confused as to how this program works. The district could alleviate this problem by listening more to parent concerns and providing more opportunities to teach the public about the constructivist appraoch. It really comes down to a failure of properly selling the program to the public.

Then, there's the terrible management of the district. Why are we at a place where we could fill nine new elementary schools with the students we stuff into mobile units? Why hasn't more been done to provide adequate space for children to learn? The trailers are an eyesore and waste of energy. I should know. I taught in one.

Finally, the district does not properly support its teachers. When a friend of mine got into some hot water last year for sharing a controversial editorial with her fifth graders, the district did not stand behind her. Even in the interest of teaching new perspectives, the district bowed to the pressures of a few angry parents. When there was talk of a new contract and pay scale, it was proposed to give the least experienced teachers, particularly brand new teachers, the largest raises. Veteran teachers who had given many years of service to the school district were given tiny, barely cost of living raises while teachers fresh from college were given sizable cash incentives to sign with the district.

I don't mean to bash the schools. There is no greater supporter of public education than I, but when I watch the district waste opportunities to improve its standing in the community, I don't know that I can stand up for tax increases in tough times. Hell, I even voted for the levy, but I could understand why people wouldn't.

Maybe the schools can learn a thing or two from someone like Paul Sturtz and fix their PR problems in the community.


Mom said...

The first time I saw the beautiful building where you were teaching, I was impressed until we got to the back and I saw all of the modulars. It's appalling that every school we went by in the Columbia district seemed to have them. Yes, we have them in Ohio too (not at every school), but the idea is they are temporary and kids deserve better than that. You may have PhD principals (as though that makes a difference), yet a nasty environment for students.

Zach said...

This is unrelated but you'll get a kick out of it.

Last night at the Why? show there was a mosquito on the stage. The lead singer, who was apparently appalled by the idea of a mosquito in early April, said, "What kind of place is this?" Several audience members yelled, "You're in Missouri." He responded, "You're in misery."

I just imagined that if you were somewhere in crowd you probably would have perked up, jumped in the air, clicked your heels, danced a little jig, and then left.

comoprozac said...

About what time did that happen? I did get a little twitch late last night.

Zach said...

I don't doubt it. It would've been around midnight or a little after.

Billy Schuh said...

After living in this town for almost 13 years now, I still have difficulty maintaining a reasonable eye on the local political landscape. This year I was able to get an earful, because my former boss Sal Nuccio at Eastside Tavern was running for the seat won by Paul Sturtz. I believe it to be more of a publicity stunt, though Sal does have some pretty genuine concerns regarding businesses and the downtown area.

As for the tax levy, it just seems that as this community has increased in population and in wealth the educational funding has decreased...

But as for your observations of CPS... spot on, my man!