Archive for November 17, 2011

Why Won’t A School Levy Pass? – Guest blogger- KB Sagert.

Lorain City Schools Series- Part One
Why won’t a school levy pass?
In Lorain, that’s the million-dollar – or, more accurately, the multi-million-dollar – question.

This post will not focus on whether I think you should or shouldn’t vote for school levies in the future. (Please read that last sentence twice! That is NOT my intent.) My intent is to try to figure out why the levies aren’t passing in Lorain – and perhaps suggest the start of a solution.

The answer, I think, is twofold – and the first part is straightforward: the economy. In Lorain these days, it feels as though most of us are in one of three categories: unemployed; employed but worried about becoming downsized; or employed but, even if fairly secure in a job, unable to shoulder more of the tax burden.

I’m going to focus the rest of the post on the second reason, which may be even more insidious than the first – and that’s a seriously eroded relationship between school leadership and the community.

I’m not finger pointing at anyone in particular and I’m not saying that blame should be laid at the feet of people currently in leadership positions. I’m very happy to see Ed Branham in the interim superintendent position and there are some truly dedicated and caring people on the school board and in other leadership positions. My point is that this trust has slowly been eroding for many years now and we’ve finally hit a crisis point.

To illustrate what I see as the problem, I’m going to use two people you might know as examples: Loraine “That Woman” Ritchey and me. Loraine and I have been neighbors now for more than 30 years; she and her family have been wonderful neighbors for us and I believe the inverse is also true.

But, let’s create a wholly hypothetical situation as an analogy – and I grant that the upcoming analogy isn’t perfect. But it might be helpful. Let’s say that, 30 years ago, Loraine felt that I wasn’t being a good neighbor to her. Maybe I worked second shift and she would fall asleep right before I got home – and my slamming car door would wake her up. I was, in a sense, being a bad neighbor, but I wasn’t doing it deliberately to hurt her. I needed that job! My mistake was that, rather than trying to find a solution (parking down the street a ways? oiling the squeaky door?), I simply said,

“Well, this the way that I need to do things.”

As time went by, I started being a bad neighbor at times in other ways – unintentional, but preventable. Maybe my two dozen pet rabbits would sneak out at night, without my knowledge, and eat up all the lettuce in her garden.
Like the slamming door problem, I might have been able to fix the bad will generated from the missing lettuce had I addressed it quickly enough.

“I’m sorry about your garden, Loraine,”

I could have said.

“Even though I didn’t know the rabbits escaped, they are my responsibility. I’ll plant new lettuce for you and build a better pen for my bunnies.”

But, I didn’t do that and so the resentment continued to build.

By this point, Loraine might assume that I was doing additional bad-neighbor things that I really wasn’t doing – but my track record made it too hard for me to convince her otherwise. She didn’t know when I was being straightforward with her and when I wasn’t – and, as our relationship continued to sour, I focused even less on trying to be a good neighbor – and the cycle continued to spiral downward and out of control.

Now, imagine that, on a regular basis, I would go to Loraine to ask her to make personal sacrifices so that she could give me money out of her family’s monthly budget. What do you think her response to me might be? Even if I would spend the money on a really worthwhile cause?

Then, this month, without admitting that sometimes I hadn’t been the perfect neighbor, I would have asked Loraine to permanently give me part of her hard-earned family income, even though she had said no to requests of limited scope in the past. Now what would her response be?

This analogy definitely isn’t perfect, as the school is asking for money to educate children, which should be one of our country’s top priorities. (And, I’m NOT saying that people shouldn’t vote for a school levy! I’m trying to determine why they aren’t passing to try to uncover some insight into a solution.)

There is an underlying similarity in a relationship between a school district and a community, and relationships between neighbors. In both cases, to make it work, there needs to be trust and a sense of good will, a feeling of working together for a common cause – and that, in my opinion, is the crucial piece that’s missing in the relationship between Lorain voters and the Lorain City Schools.

How can this be fixed? My guess is that it won’t be fast or easy. The wounds are too deep.

I do believe, though, from the bottom of my heart, that relationship repairing is at the core of the solution. Not a more carefully crafted levy slogan or appealing to different demographics in the community.

Relationship rebuilding. Genuine, straightforward relationship rebuilding.

For school leaders, this would involve honest (and at first painful!) conversations with the community – and a willingness to really listen what the community has to say in response. I’m not talking about an in-and-out forum or a community survey, either. I’m talking about an ongoing, heartfelt reaching out and a commitment to working with the community today, tomorrow, next week, next year – and beyond.

Who’s willing to give this a try?

November 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm 54 comments



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November 2011