The School Bond's Demise
by Judy Cresanta, NPRI President
Elizabeth Squires, a political activist, retired teacher and NSEA member, lamented her inability to support the school bond issue in Washoe County "because it has no integrity," she said. I thought that was an odd way to couch her dilemma, but intrigued, I asked her what she meant. She said, "I doubt the district has much faith in it either since they are resorting to questionable means to persuade the public on the issue."
Mrs. Squires cited the "Crime Costs More Than Crayons" commercial as a form of illogical, if not emotional blackmail, but more significantly the use of school teachers, principals, school facilities and equipment to reproduce materials sent home with school children reciting the virtues of $196 million dollars in new property taxes going for new school construction and repairs. "Its plain wrong to use your captive audience to advance your political agenda." Mrs. Squires said.
Recently, Californias Fourth Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that school districts have the right to prevent employees (teachers and administrators) from conducting political campaigns in front of captive student audiences in the classroom. The case arose from the 1993 campaign against school vouchers in California. California Teachers Association members in the Folsom-Cordova district used school copiers to produce "fact sheets" about Proposition 174, which they sent home with students. San Jose teachers used a back-to-school night to hand out "Im voting No on Prop 174" buttons. Judge Patricia Benke cited the Supreme Courts recognition of the "substantial influence and power instructors have over elementary and secondary school children within the classroom" as a reason to curb classroom campaigning.
It may sound familiar because its a practice thats been used in the Washoe County District in this and other campaigns. Steve Mulvenon, in fact, has defended the practice as within the law and it may be. But to me this demonstrates a shameless and unethical disregard toward the rights of children. They should be protected from this, not used for manipulation for the sake of politics.
The ballot measures failure points to a much deeper problem than merely money for schools. The District and its representatives have eroded their own credibility for several reasons. Parents feel estranged from their neighborhood schools but in a schizophrenic way. With one breath the district says become more involved but involvement always must be on their terms or not at all. Ask the countless parents who have tried - they feel bullied, labeled as "right wing nuts" and ridiculed. They ask for change meaningful change, not more programs to ensure diversity and political correctness, counseling and esteem management, drug and Aids awareness programs. They are frustrated that the teachers who are productive, talented and innovative get little encouragement through means such as merit pay and other incentives while at the same time the district takes years to get rid of the bad egg teachers. But of course the unions fight tooth and nail against such reforms. Merit pay is just another dirty word. And the unions write parents off as naive since they "just dont adequately understand the nuances of modern day education or labor relations."
And speaking of labor relations, parents are tired of union hacks driving the agenda to benefit themselves rather than the kids. They are tired of their obstructionist role. And unfortunately, the parents battle fatigue is growing into resentment and bitterness. Why do you think home schooling is on the rise? Why are think tanks like NPRI willing to subject themselves to all manner of threats and intimidation tactics from union goons? Because the issue is bigger than an NPRI. Its bigger than a teachers union. These are children were talking about - the innocents who are in the middle, not $196 million dollars for buildings or benefit packages for union members!
Steve Mulvenon stated that he wanted to find out why people voted the way they did before the Washoe County School District made any more decisions. I only hope that Mr. Mulvenon will stop his defensive stance and listen. Its not "us and them," Mr. Mulvenon, "its us!" Its Elizabeth Squires, and countless others who have just plain had enough.
And to all voters in those counties who have yet to vote on your school bond issues, we hope that you have gleaned some wisdom from Washoe County.
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