To the editor,
Let me be clear: This is in no way an argument against the need to improve the health and safety of our high school. It is, however, an argument against the upcoming referendum.
The past seven years of heavy-handed pushes for school referendum, often setting non-traditional voting dates and locations and never pausing in this run of six votes to genuinely consider alternatives to the grand plan of a school board from the past, is not democracy. Let’s be real: The two “options” given are not alternative visions. A vote to move the 7th and 8th grades is a vote for inevitably moving the entire high school – if only a bit delayed.
This failure to live the democratic ideals which it is charged with teaching should be of great concern to all. “[Schools are] our primary public institutions for establishing democratic ideals and instilling civic skills,” explained Klinenberg in “Palaces for the People.” He continued, “Schools are organizations, but they’re also social infrastructures. The way they’re planned, designed and programmed shapes the interactions that develop in and around them. For students, teachers, parents and entire communities, schools can either foster or inhibit trust, solidarity and a shared commitment to the common good.” The strategically scheduled votes, lack of hearing and responding to concerns, and the embarrassing rhetoric have surely inhibited our ability to act as a community.
There are many decisions organizations like smalltown school districts make that send ripple effects more widely and deeply than they can imagine. The trend of disinvestment in existing infrastructure and rising investment in new build “sprawl schools” situated on the edge of communities, for example, has public health professionals concerned over the lack of active transportation opportunities for students who are already facing rising obesity rates, according to the 2008 report “Linking School Construction Investments to Equity, Smart Growth, and Healthy Communities.” It also limits access to internship opportunities and the feasibility of some students participating in extracurricular activities due to increased transportation needs. These unintended consequences of “sprawl schools” increase the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Another 2008 report, “Local Governments and Schools: A Community-Oriented Approach,” notes that in addition to public health, school facility planning impacts a community’s economy, environment, traffic congestion, community cohesion, social equity, quality of education and school and local government finance. To this end, I wonder: Have those advocating for the new building proposal sought to understand how this might impact our downtown businesses, given our current fragile retail environment? Is there a plan to ensure our roadways can safely accommodate this drastic increase in traffic to one side of town? The recent fatal accident at the turn toward Mora Elementary on Hwy 65 involved experienced drivers. How might this impact our newest drivers and our youngest students sharing the roads to school? And what of our climate crisis? The 2011 study ”Report on Historic Preservation and Sustainability” concluded that “rather than demolishing and replacing historic buildings, it is better to reuse, repair and maintain them...By reducing our resource consumption in buildings, reducing our landfill impact from new construction and demolition waste and upgrading our historic buildings to new energy efficient technologies, historic preservation...means environmental, cultural and economic benefit for our shared human and ecological future.” Have we considered the environmental impact these referendums will have for the future generations we hope to serve?
I am a third generation alumna and former school employee with children in the district. I work in education and value investments in public institutions. Still, I will vote “no” to all referendum until I feel the community at-large is an authentic part of the district’s planning, with the greater good of the whole at the center.