Thursday, March 31, 2011

Morton School District 709 Referendum on April 5th—I’m voting NO!!!

A week ago this post would have been more difficult to write than it is today. I was somewhat torn over the issue. I was a teacher in Illinois for several years. I was an elected school board member in Arizona for four years. I can’t remember ever voting against a school referendum before this year. On April 5th, I will vote NO on the Morton School District Referendum!

When I was elected to the school board, we had 3 elementary schools, one junior high school, and one high school. The district which is located northwest of Tucson has approximately 550 square miles within its boundaries. (I didn’t remember this figure. I looked it up, as well as other information, at the district website while writing this post.) The district was a rapidly growing district that had money problems because the State determined, by a formula, how much money we could spend and that formula didn’t take into account rapid growth to the extent that it should have.

Soon after I moved to the area, the district passed a referendum to build additional schools. During my four years on the board, we built three elementary schools, one junior high school, and a high school. According to the referendum, we were suppose to build four elementary schools but we didn’t have sufficient money for the fourth. When I left the board, having decided not to run for reelection, we had six elementary schools, two junior high schools, and two high schools. We doubled the number of schools in four years! The school population was around 6,000 when I retired from the board.

Today, according to the website, there are 12 elementary schools, 2 junior high schools, and three high schools—a vocational high school has been added. The 2010 student population is listed as 12,916. The peak student population occurred in 2005 when there were 13,343 students. Since that high, the student population has declined slightly each year. The decline from 2009 to 2010 was one student.

I was born and raised in Morton. I attended Jefferson Elementary School—the only elementary school at the time—Morton Junior High, and Morton High School. I believe I received a good education. My GPA in college was higher than my GPA at Morton High. I received my bachelor and master of science degrees in five years of college and then taught high school students in three school districts within Illinois. I was certified to teach in both Illinois and Arizona although I never taught in Arizona.

I have empathy for both teachers and school boards. I know the work involved because I personally experienced it at both levels. I also know that buildings per se do NOT improve education within a school system. I’ve known systems that had everything they needed and wanted and yet they provided, what I considered, a poor education. I have known systems that had to scrimp in all areas and yet they provided, what I considered, a good education. Buildings don’t education!

I have divided my reasons for opposing the referendum into three sections although reasons one and two tend to merge together. They are:

1) neighborhood schools

2) the smell factor

3) the economy and spendoholics

The three reasons:

1) neighborhood schools

The school district has four elementary schools. Three of the elementary schools are receiving building funds through the referendum. Jefferson Elementary, which is the oldest school and the smallest population-wise (I believe this is true. I tried to find the building population and could not find it.), receives no referendum funds. Many within the school’s boundaries believe the intent of the board is to close the school at a later date. The school board denies that and claims that no decision has been made. My belief, as a former teacher and a former school board member, is that no decision is a decision. The decision through inaction and denial is that the building will be closed. A firm statement either way—it will stay open and will be one of our elementary schools or it will be closed at a future date and be replaced by—is necessary for me to even consider voting yes. Uncertainty is NOT an option. The school board needs to demonstrate some integrity!

2) the smell factor

The treatment of this referendum just does NOT pass the smell test. The district for months talked about how every school in the district needs major work—the junior high doesn’t have enough bicycle racks. They discussed closing Jefferson, moving the Jefferson students to the junior high, moving the junior high students to the high school, moving the students from one of the elementary schools to the high school with the new junior high school students, building a new elementary school, building a new high school. It was a long term plan. Or at least, it was suppose to be.

Then, we get a referendum to add on to three of the four elementary schools and nothing else. Everything else is in limbo. What happened to the long range plan? What’s going to happen to Jefferson? Are we going to build any new schools? What future referendums are we going to be asked to support? Who knows?

As I wrote on my March 24th post, “At the end of the last letter to the editor, the following was printed on page A5:

‘This edition, March 23, will be the last edition the Morton Times-News can print letters to the editor concerning the April 5 election.’

As I also wrote on that post, I sent a letter to the editor offering to post any letters in relation to the April 5th election dealing with the board of trustee election and/or the school district referendum. Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Peoria Journal Star, which is owned by the same conglomerate that owns the Morton Times-News, published an editorial in support of the referendum. This is the same editorial board that supports the murder of unborn babies and supports the “right” of 17 year-old girls to buy murder pills (also referred to as “morning after pills”) over the counter.

My letter to the editor offering an opportunity to continue the debate was not published. But that’s not all. A strange thing happened within that Wednesday March 30th edition. Even though the previously week the paper had declared that “This edition, March 23, will be the last edition the Morton Times-News can print letters to the editor concerning the April 5 election,” a letter to the editor dealing with the April 5th election was printed.

On page A4 of the Wednesday, March 30, 2011 edition of the Morton Times-News it stated,


School board gives answers

As members of the Board of Education in Morton we are encouraged by the healthy debate surrounding the referendum ….” WHAT!!! What ever happened to “This edition, March 23, will be the last edition the Morton Times-News can print letters to the editor concerning the April 5 election.”??? An exception was made for the school board!!! Does this pass the smell test??? NOT to me!!!

The moment I saw that letter my decision to VOTE NO was confirmed!!! This is Chicago style politics in the village of Morton and it stinks!!! The school board needs to demonstrate some integrity! The local newspaper needs to demonstrate some integrity!

3) the economy and spendoholics

School referendums do not occur in a vacuum. At the present time the federal government is a spendoholic increasing our national debt daily. The debt has passed $14 trillion and is racing to pass $15 trillion. The State of Illinois is a spendoholic. Its debt is estimated to be $15 billion this fiscal year. The State has been violating its own Constitution for several years by NOT balancing the yearly budget.

Instead of cutting spending, the State increased the State income tax by 67%. The State increased the State income tax by 67% and we, the citizens of Morton, had no direct say in the matter. The village of Morton recently increased the village’s portion of the sales tax by approximately 14% and we, the citizens of Morton, had no direct say in the matter. Now, the school board wants to increase our property tax. This time, we DO HAVE a direct say in the matter. We can say “TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY!”

No tax is imposed in a vacuum. We do NOT have unlimited funds to hand over to governments!

Do you really believe the State will impose sanctions if the new gymnasiums are not built? Do you really believe that there are no alternatives if we do not build extra classrooms? I, as well as other social science teachers, taught in portable class rooms for a number of years before St. Charles Unified School District 303 built a new high school. In Arizona, the elementary school in my neighborhood had portable classrooms both before and after the three new elementary schools were built. Jefferson has extra space according to the district. Can’t the elementary school boundaries be redrawn? The district owns the building across from one of the other elementary schools. Can’t it be utilized? How can we really know if this expansion is beneficial until we know the long range plan?

As Sherlock Holmes has said: “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” page 8 From: A Scandal in Bohemia

As Sherlock Holmes has also said: “Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently, “I can’t make bricks without clay.” page 289 From: The Copper Beeches

Also, it would be wise to consider what the State might do to cut State spending. It may well cut funds that go to schools. It already owes schools money that it doesn’t have. The State might allow schools to cut such programs as daily physical education rather than cutting core curriculum subjects such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. After all, the students aren’t required to show competence in physical education as they are in such areas as reading, writing, and arithmetic. If something has to fall to the wayside because of cost restraints, what do you think it will be? Finally, if the State think we need gymnasiums so badly, I’d ask them to return the money they confiscated with the 67% income tax increase. We can then use that money to build the needed gyms!

In short, this is not a plan. This is, at best, a segment of a possible plan. Show us the plan! We might show the school board the money. Until then, as far as I’m concerned, no plan; no money!