Today’s referendum: A case study in Optimism v. Nilhilism

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So today we have the state’s 2 largest district seeking affirmation from their communities to take more taxes from them in order to strengthen and preserve the most sacrosanct public trust we as a state and nation have: the education of our children. It is the conclusion of much consideration from elected school boards and the sole way in which Delaware code permits its local share of education dollars to be modified: direct election.  I love democracy, and the vote. Today we receive our truth and I am A-OK with that; however, the General Assembly is directly elected and they control  taxes as well. Why not the school taxes? Perhaps they feel it is best to keep the decisions truly local and not burden their colleagues with provincial battles? Perhaps they are just enamored with selective direct voting? Perhaps they are cowards, afraid to preserve this public trust over their precious jobs? Honestly, we’ll never know what the feckless wonders who have presided over the destructive policies of the last 6 years have done to school funding because they don’t seem too interested in searching their souls nor revealing them.

Here’s what I know: this is a tough referendum for a ton of reasons. The economy is not what our Governor tells us it is: it’s tough, and people continue to struggle… so asking for more money is a difficult sell. The state has spent a tremendous amount of energy in the past six years making public education an arena for labeling, shaming, fighting. I’m talking about schools, students, teachers, parents, school boards, and even communities. Test driven accountability and the unfavorable coverage it’s “alleged” results begets has fractured the public trust in public education. We now bicker (yes, me too. Actually me first much of the time) constantly over results, salaries, tests, special education, elections, FOIA, charters, magnets, PZ schools, Priority Schools, Focus Schools, Common Core, DCAS, SBAC, educator evaluations, ELL/ESL delivery, class sizes, etc., etc.  All of these are important things and the opinions on these subjects vary greatly, but the opinions all gather into one place and become a cacophonous, out of tune, symphonic disaster that leaves many parents and taxpayers deeply skeptical of how the educational establishment in Delaware functions well, or even at all. They are right to be affected by the discourse in just this way.

All of this brings me to my argument for the referendum. I’m hearing the NO voters loud and clear: they seem to believe there is no accountability for results, pay is too high for administrators, kids are out of control behaviorally with no consequence (schools are not safe). When added to the reality of not being able to afford additional taxes, it leads them to a visceral NO vote.  I understand this position and why it is a very sincere belief despite not sharing it.

I also hear the YES voters: we cannot move forward without adequate funding, I value my child’s school and teachers, my school has a great community and I will do anything to support it.

In the middle, and who I hear loudest, are the MAYBE voters, or the I’M NOT SURE voters. They are drawn to the opinions of the NO voters because they see many of the same things, but they know that without adequate funding there is no hope for the future. It is a classic case of embracing the nihilism of saying I want to stick it to the schools to teach them a lesson in being better and I don’t care if my children, your children, charter children, TPS children, children with special needs, gifted children have no resources VS. the optimism of belief that we, as a state and community, must provide resources to this effort so that we can make better decisions tomorrow than we did yesterday.

I know this is a difficult decision. Only one vote, a vote for nihilism and the selection of NO will box Red Clay and Christina in a corner with our children. If you have deep and sincere reservations about how to move forward, but also deeply believe we have a moral obligation to do so, vote for optimism, vote YES.

That’s YES… and get involved. Come to board meetings, join PTA, vote in board elections, RUN for school board! If you want to have the money to allow your district to make change, vote YES.

If you want to force us to change in a way that reduces our ability to serve children while you make your point, then vote NO, and shrink back into your world and pretend you didn’t take money from schools, students, and literally fire your neighbors.

Dover’s inability to produce a school funding mechanism that is equitable or flexible has put us here, along with the Governor’s draconian cuts. If you want Red Clay and Christina to have chance of honoring this public trust, then join me at the polls. Without funds, there are no option to improve, only shrink, reduce, and comply.

I’m voting yes, because I have optimism and faith in public education, community, and the provision of opportunity to our students.