Writing My Life

Now and Then

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… activists vs. REACTivists…

I’ve written about the current state of education – the state I live in because I am an educator. And I have to remind any new readers that education is in an upheaval for several reasons.

  1. the GREAT REcession
  2. education REform under  President Obama
  3. the WAR between the DISTRICTS that resulted in the SEcession of almost half of Jordan School District
  4. state budget cuts – results of #1 and a state law requiring a balanced budget

While I don’t plan to describe the above issues, suffice it to say (I  LIKE that cliche’) that the current Jordan School District was $30 million dollars short, and so lay-offs were announced and battle lines drawn. The Jordan Education Association leadership stand on the front lines, and many active members fill in the supporting rank and file. Sitting on the sidelines are less passionate/committed JEA members and teachers who do not support JEA through their membership.

Along the front lines, however, are other leaders standing shoulder to shoulder with teacher union members – parents, mostly mothers. One young mother, Jolynne Alger,  is every bit the leader that Robin Frodge, JEA president, is. This mom, a PTA mom, started a grass-roots effort via FaceBook among parents in Jordan School District to fight against the budget recommendations set forth by the school board. She didn’t do it by attacking board members. Instead, she recruited other like-minded parents and took the fight up to the hill and challenged legislators to help in the struggle. I saw her in front of cameras and seated on marble floors writing out memos to state representatives and senators.

Through combined efforts of teachers, parents, and union members, the legislator downsized the budget battle to a sizable skirmish. While long-term solutions were NOT addressed in the legislative session – state equalization for money to ALL Utah schools or equalization between the 2 districts involved, Canyons and Jordan – support to Jordan arrived in the form of a bill that allows diverting money from capital funding to general funding. That means that new buildings or repairs will have to be delayed so that about $14 million can spare teachers from being laid off and class sizes from being increased. VERY GOOD NEWS.

While my own job is still in jeopardy, I still marvel at individuals who jump into the fray – sometimes BEFORE it becomes a fray. While I am a card-carrying JEA member because technically, I am NOT an administrator but a teacher on special assignment, I do not jump into frays. I have a NON-confrontational personality that doesn’t mix well with picketing, shouting, and other “in-your-face” tactics that seem to be popular forms of communication. Nevertheless, I really admire those who stick their necks out for us ostriches. (Are you loving all my analogies and metaphors?)

While a few individuals see an injustice that hurts others, not necessarily themselve, they immediately join the fight against it. I, on the other hand wait until that thing lands on my front door and hurts me, and THEN I REact. I suppose that’s better than ignoring the elephant on the doorstep as some still do, but there are times I wish I’d grow more of a backbone or better support causes that INdirectly affect me.

But I did venture up to the capitol, wrote notes to legislators, talked with JEA leaders and parents, wrote letters and asked questions of the board. I also reflected and commented on the situation through this blog, and some who read my meanderings passed the posts onto others.

I guess what I’m saying is “THANK YOU” to those who charge forth to carry the banners.  Why? Because they are willing to invite controversy into their lives on a daily basis, sit down with criticism and debate the issues, live with angst as a constant companion, and in so doing they make a difference. I don’t always agree with some activists (especially those tea party folks) or their modus operandi, but I respect their willingness to stand up for their beliefs. In the meantime, I’ll fill in the ranks – maybe not on the front lines, but NOT on the sidelines either.


… mothers and King Solomon …

WARNING: This is really a long AND grumpy post! It expresses my opinion, based upon what I’ve read and experienced in regards to the deplorable  situation of one of Utah’s oldest school districts. Just thought you should know and then proceed at your own risk!

Remember the Bible story about the two women who both claimed to be the mother of a baby, and so  they took their problem to King Solomon. In his wisdom, the king rendered a horrendous decision that called for  cutting the infant in half. One mother – and I use the term loosely – accepted the ruling, but the other woman surrendered her claim in order to save the child’s life. King Solomon reversed his edict and granted the second woman full custody of the baby, claiming that only the real mother would make a such sacrifice for the sake of the child.

Unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to educating children, today’s society personifies the attitude of the first and faux mother: “If the child isn’t REALLY mine, then I don’t care what happens to IT.” Now the federal government is TRYING to play Solomon by declaring that “no child [shall be] left behind,” but just as the king dispensed words and/or laws without ways and means – other than threats – so follows the U.S. Department of Education.

Now, it is understandable that states, districts, schools, and parents strongly question the wisdom of the “kings” – present and past, but what is the reaction in Utah? It appears that the legislature, some districts, and many parents have adopted their own mantra: Leave ALL children behind EXCEPT MINE. Gone is the belief that it takes a village to raise a child; gone is John Dewey’s belief that “what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children,” and gone is the democratic notion of our second president, John Adams, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and must be willing to bear the expense of it.”

Instead, this is what has happened over the past few years:

  • The legislature tried to undermine public education by pushing through a voucher system that would give tax breaks to those who want THEIR children educated in private schools – of course, the breaks wouldn’t help enough for low or most middle income families to take advantage of the system.
  • The legislature listened to entities that wanted to create their own districts, and so they passed legislation that allowed areas within districts to do so without voter input from the portion of the district “left behind” and without considering the financial impact upon ALL taxpayers and the affected districts.
  • In spite of the fact that the law was flawed and other districts – Granite and Alpine – saw the folly in dividing their districts, Jordan School District’s east side city mayors AND parents decided
    • they did not want to fund the growth on the west side of the district any more
    • they did not want year-round schools any more
    • they wanted sports in middle schools – thus turning them back into junior highs
    • they wanted to create their own district – Canyons – and would do it through
      • bamboozling the “old” Jordan District School Board to adopt a neutral stance until it was too late
      • very little public disclosure of what such a move would entail – 100s of citizens claim they didn’t hear anything about the split – of course, these have to be individuals who don’t read the paper or watch the 10:00 news
      • scheduling the vote in conjunction with the special election ordered by Gov. Huntsman for Nov. 6, 2007;  low voter turn-out (6% of the citizens) barely passed the measure
  • The “new” Jordan District School Board often misreads teachers and patrons because …
    • they aren’t good at informing their employees or the  public of their vision
    • they need a complete college education – not just a course –  in public relations to build a better perception of our district
    • they listen, but they DON’T hear – with few exceptions – and then it’s perceived as bitter REaction instead of the best and/or needed course!
  • The current Jordan District coulda, woulda, shoulda …
    • seriously considered legitimate concerns of eastside parents who complained long and hard about schools in need of repair and air conditioning (Btw, there are also westside schools without air conditioning, too, and I taught in one for a long time!)
    • looked BACK instead of FORWARD when procuring offices for the new Jordan boundaries
      • late 1970s JSD size was similar to current district size – How much room was needed to house employees at that time?
      • decision to procure 2 large buildings, probably based on forecasted growth, was made BEFORE the impact of the current recession
      • Note: wouldn’t have a need for new building(s) had the split not forced eviction
  • Because of the legislators’ poor law regarding district splits, the GREAT RECESSION that hit in 2008, and the infamous Jordan District “split,”  Jordan School District is faced with
    • a $30 million deficit
    • laying off 500 employees, including 250 teachers and 250 district personnel – that will most likely include me
    • raising class sizes by 4+ students
    • eliminating programs
  • The results have been
    • Salt Lake County school districts have to “help out” Jordan by diverting money to this district, which upsets their citizens, and who can blame them?
    • a legislative committee that could have voted to ease Jordan’s burden and its lower per pupil allocation because of lost revenue due to the split was defeated
    • a law suit on behalf of Herriman City went to lower and high courts and lost – good try, but more money needlessly spent
    • west-side taxpayers rose in arms against the Jordan’s school board when asked to pay a 40% tax hike – understandable, but it seems they missed the mark when they failed to see the real culprits: the legislature and Canyon’s mayors with personal agendas
    • teachers AND students picketing against Jordan’s proposal to cut teachers and raise class size
    • a divided Jordan District in terms of teachers and staff vs administration
    • a GRAND CANYON divide between Jordan District and Canyons
    • and oh, so much more.

So my questions are these:

  • Does anyone remember the goal to do what’s BEST for students?
  • Does anyone know where the legislators are who say ALL of Utah’s children deserve a great education? Not just rich children, city children, east-side children. Those magnanimous law-makers are somewhere on the hill – like Rep.  Jim Bird, but there are NOT enough of them.
  • Where are the School Board Members – like Rick Bojack –  who are willing to TRULY do what’s best for students? – It  CAN’T be best for students to raise their class sizes and eliminate teachers and programs.
  • Does anyone remember that Dr. Doty announced to Canyons’ patrons that he voted AGAINST the split?
  • Does anyone remember when Baby Boomers started first grade, and schools had to be built by the hundreds, and grandparents, who survived the Great DEpression and sacrificed for the war effort on the home front, forked over money from their limited incomes to help pay for the education of future generations? (I know that’s a REALLY long sentence) They did it WITHOUT whining or protesting because they saw it as their duty.
  • Does anyone know where the “mothers” (those who truly care about ALL  students) are? Those individuals like the mother who agreed to sacrifice her greatest desire for the good of the child. Fortunately, they do exist in the form of those PTA moms who said, “I’ll pay the extra taxes for the education of our children even though it will be a sacrifice. We have been silent, but no more. We will do what needs to be done. Join us. Sign these petitions to present to the school board to assure them that we will fight for OUR children.”

I wrote this for me, to reflect upon my frustration and my sadness. I’ve never seen education in such a wretched place. I had to stop reading public comments in newspapers because I was beginning to believe NO ONE is well informed and teachers are the most disrespected professionals in the state and nation.

But I am not feeling totally hopeless, and I doubt that I’ll leave the field, even though I have no idea where I’ll end up. Why, because I am HOPING FOR A BETTER DAY!