Sunday, November 06, 2016

Our big fat Hibbardendum (2): The more things stay the same, or our school bond referendum, 2016.

I was asked to "clarify" my stance on the school bond referendum in the wake of Friday's day-late column.

ON THE AVENUES: It’s our big fat Hibbardendum, and Jeff Gahan is carrying the superintendent across the threshold as Metro United Way tosses rice and One Southern Indiana steals all the liquor.

... as with the vote that preceded it, the stated terms of this referendum are fundamentally deceptive. The chicanery accompanying them is rampant and frankly odious. This exercise is about bright shiny objects, not the education of kids. This is not a community discussion about the future of education. It’s a top-down edict, and a call for the rabble to bow to their betters, form a line and stand in order.

Seeing as nothing much has changed since Bruce Hibbard's first might heave at the bond issue Wheel of Fortune in May of 2015 -- apart from the corporation's target number increasing to $87 million -- my words at the time should suffice. The following was originally published on May 4, 2015 as "On the school bond referendum," and I stand by it.

See also:

Our big fat Hibbardendum (1): Follow the PAC-besotted usual suspects' beak wetting in the $87 million schools referendum. 

Our big fat Hibbardendum (3): City voters, take note, because just as in 2015, the NA-FC bond referendum is a "driving oriented, suburban school model."

ON THE AVENUES: It’s our big fat Hibbardendum, and Jeff Gahan is carrying the superintendent across the threshold as Metro United Way tosses rice and One Southern Indiana steals all the liquor.


There were 106 posts at NA Confidential in April, 2015, and to my surprise, this one took the title of most viewed.

News release: "Greenville Concerned Citizens, Inc. (has) voted to oppose the upcoming $80 million school bond referendum."

Obviously, there exists a palpable level of interest in the school bond referendum, which impacts the entire county, but is appearing on the ballot during a city election cycle, during the often forgotten primary. This fact alone might provide a modicum of insight as to why some residents might be piqued, apart from the relative merits of the referendum's "for" and "against."

From the start, there has been a well-organized, prolific advocacy effort for a "yes" vote: Families for Floyd County. It's a well-named PAC, too; it's hard to imagine the converse, as in Families AGAINST Floyd County.

Meanwhile, by its own admission, the organized "vote no" push was slow in getting off the ground, and in spite of the press release here at the blog that performed so well, the News and Tribune didn't pay very much attention until after the Louisville Courier-Journal tipped things off.

Group rallies against $80M Floyd referendum, by Kirsten Clark
In the final weeks before an $80 million referendum for New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation appears on the ballot, a group of concerned citizens has been rallying against it, calling some of the proposed construction it would fund "completely unnecessary" and the school administration's actions "sneaky."

Shortly thereafter, N and T revealed the counter-punch.

Greenville group may have illegal sign campaign, by Jerod Clapp

... Pete Palmer, a local attorney and president of Families for Floyd County — a PAC encouraging voters to favor the referendum — said he may file a formal complaint against Greenville Concerned Citizens.

“I am exploring the issue because I think the manner in which they have approached this is unfair,” Palmer said. “To the extent I consider it to be a violation of Indiana election law, I consider it to be an appropriate remedy.”

Speaking only for myself, I find it very disappointing that the well-heeled Families for Floyd County would seek intimidation via technicality. The pro-bond PAC has been ubiquitous in presenting its case in favor of the school bond issue.

Need it crush dissenting viewpoints to succeed?


There simply isn't space here to recap the many instructive conversations taking place recently on Facebook about the school bond issue. Thanks to all who have taken part. To me, perhaps the best short summary remains Jeff G's Fb post several weeks back, which is clear and economical in explaining the case against.

The school referendum on the primary ballot in Floyd County attempts to refute both science and basic economics, assuring the school corporation continues on the wholly unsustainable path started with closing smaller, walkable, neighborhood schools. Proponents of the referendum have continually attempted to separate the school closings from the referendum but both are part of the exact same plan-- a reliance on fewer, larger, driving-oriented school campuses. This is a school corporation that thinks nothing of purchasing and demolishing hundred-year-old housing to build more parking lots. All the pro-kids, pro-community, pro-environment arguments made in response to the proposed closings are still true and applicable. This referendum just insures that they won't ever be taken seriously until we reach genuine crisis stage, something that will occur sooner if the referendum passes. We can deal with reality now as a part of an improved referendum or we can stick our heads in the sand with this one and continue pretending as though a misguided 60s era model will work ad infinitum. Looking forward rather than backward requires voting NO.

Consequently, there exist two fundamental considerations pertaining to the "yea or nay" thought process as it exists in my own interior world.

First, while I believe we always should do things "for the kids," which is to say, "for the future," parsing the equation and defining the meaning of "things" is by no means simple, and the process lends itself to deployment as an emotional argument -- which I view proponents as having done in this instance. What must we do for the kids? Build better buildings. Why? Because better buildings lead to better education. Are there alternatives? Not really -- after all, it's for the kids. The argument is emotional, and circular.

Second, the bond proposal cannot be divorced from its progenitor. The NA-FC school corporation is the very essence of 800-lb gorilla, absorbing huge amounts of money and sucking the air out of rooms from Silver Creek to the Harrison County line, and yet existing forever as an autonomous, extra-governmental entity. There is little or no connectivity between school corporation leadership and the community; if the city resolves to pour money into neighborhood revitalization, you can almost bet your paycheck that the neighborhood school located there is next to be shuttered, with the decision-making process customarily based on a staggering degree of non-transparency, and absent communication with elected officials.

As recently as mid-April, during the run-up to the referendum, and almost as though school corporation administrators were bound and determined to prove once and for all how utterly tone deaf to criticism they can be, the upper echelon reacted harshly and openly to suggestions that it might do more to inform the public about agenda items at school board meetings:

“We wrote to you so you could make good decisions,” (deputy superintendent Brad) Snyder said. “We didn’t write to 70,000 people. We didn’t write to people who have axes to grind or issues against us. If we start writing that way, our vernacular, our language will probably shift to nouns and verbs. Our relationships will change and we will be required to do less work.”

Some will say that voting "no" as a form of protest, as I have done, is improper, seeing as it places children in the position of suffering collateral damage. I cannot entirely dismiss this objection. There are opportunity costs to all decisions, and we rely on our minds and consciences to help in the process of weighing them. But in the end, if we're genuinely serious about long-term futures, then there must be an open, principled break with unhelpful policies and behaviors from the past.

Education, community, sustainability, connectivity ... it's a minefield. The school bond referendum was a tough call for me. I merely hope that we can agree to disagree.

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