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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Book Review: The Racketeer

I read my first John Grisham novel, The Firm, during college. Immediately I was hooked and devoured everything he wrote for several years thereafter. My favorite Grisham story remains A Time To Kill...both the book and the movie (and thank you for introducing us to Texas-hottie Matthew McConaughey in that film...whoa!). 

But as time marched on, I realized that Grisham's legal-thriller novels followed the same recipe. An aspiring/young/disbarred lawyer has found himself/herself involved in crime/case/trial that encased concealment of government-related corruptness. Typically in a southern setting, the story lines often include racism and/or environmental-hazard issues related to big business.

Another complaint I have with Grisham's books is with the endings. He can write intense plot lines but the final chapters can be underwhelming and weak.

All that being said, I truly enjoyed reading The Racketeer. The story is about a jailhouse lawyer, Mal Bannister, who is half-way through a 10-year sentence for racketeering...charges for which he professes his innocence. A federal judge and his girlfriend have been murdered while Mal is on the inside, and there are no solid leads in the case. That is, until Mal offers credible information on the crime in exchange for his freedom. 

Mal's deposition about the murder is convincing, and he's set free from prison while the feds get their guy...or so they think. The ensuing story follows Mal and his conning "sticking it to the feds" plan as revenge in losing five years of his life (and his wife and son) for false racketeering charges.

This book is pure entertainment. Nothing about it will provoke deep thought or launch a career in public policy...although it may make you more leery of anyone involved in the government. And let's face it, you don't need to read fiction to be suspicious of politicians and their appointees.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Quote of the Day

"Simplifying is not necessarily getting rid of everything we've worked so hard for. It's deciding what's important to us, and gracefully letting go of things that aren't." -Elaine St. James

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: The Night Circus

I was sucked into The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern rather quickly.  It’s an intriguing tale about a magical circus that is closed during the day, and opens at nightfall. The author gives exquisite detail of the enchanted black-and-white circus set in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The eccentric supporting cast of characters is guided by the mysterious powers of Le Cirque de Reves (The Circus of Dreams).

The two main characters, Marco and Celia, are illusionists who have been groomed since childhood for a contest of sorts, with the circus as the venue for their competition. They are supposed to be at odds with each other, but as fate would have it they fall in love…a sort of Romeo and Juliet forbidden romance.

The plot has all of the makings for an incredible novel. However, I found myself thinking the story was good but not great...and rather disjointed at times. Many of the characters are underdeveloped, with little purpose other than being a distraction. The competition between the two main characters was weak, and the love story was disappointingly flat.

I kept waiting for the big moment…the final showdown to learn if one of them would choose victory and glory over love. But alas, what should have been a grand finale of spectacular fireworks across the sky was actually a disappointing display of fizzling driveway bottle rockets. 

I was left wanting more.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Walking The Halls of Homework Shame

So there I was, standing in the hallway watching my third grader with her back to me chatting with her friends before school started. My daughter knew I was there, but she was trying to pretend I was anywhere but standing a few feet behind her.

I nicknamed Jenna “the negotiator” from the time she was three years old. She never takes your first offer, and she’s always trying to work a better deal. She had somewhat succeeded in this instance, but she didn’t get exactly what she had hoped. If Jenna had her way, I would have dropped her off at the school’s front door…or even let her get on the bus as usual (or, as “usualer” as she likes to say).

My visit to school was the result of Jenna forgetting to turn in her homework…AGAIN. This had been a topic of discussion both at home and during a recent parent-teacher conference. We always do homework and make sure it’s securely placed in her backpack. But somehow, my 8 year-old failed to turn in her homework about once a week. I was painfully aware that her third grade class had 33 students (see previous posts about the voted local levy), and I certainly didn’t expect her teacher to follow-up with her every single day about turning in homework. A third grader should remember the arrive-at-school morning routine includes returning homework to its proper place.

On previous forgotten homework infractions, Ryan and I removed TV and video game privileges. When those tactics no longer became effective, we devised Plan B. We informed Jenna that I would be walking her to class and watch her turn in her homework. She pleaded for a reduced sentence, so we agreed that rather than me walking into the classroom with her that I would stand in the hallway a few feet away. I emailed her teacher and let her know our plan.

The next morning I pulled into the parking lot next to the busses.

Jenna said, “Mom…NO! You can’t walk in with me where all of the kids are getting off the bus. Please go to the parking lot next to the office at the front of the school.”

So, I went to the front parking lot. We got out of the car, and walked to the door.

“Mom, this is good…I won’t forget…promise,” stated Jenna.

“Nope, I’m going in,” I responded. The negotiations had ended.

Jenna fell behind me about 10 feet, staring at the floor as she walked.

I found this somewhat amusing…it the first time Jenna didn’t want to be seen with her mother. I’m sure if I had cupcakes or something, she’d be right there with me. But not that morning…there wasn’t anything to celebrate.

As I walked into the third grade hallway, Jenna ran past me to a group of friends in front of her classroom. As promised, I stood a few feet away from her. But it didn’t matter…her friends recognized me.  Jenna turned around once, shooing me away with her hands…pleading with her eyes. I slowly shook my head “No,” with which she responded with an eye roll and turned her back to me again.

Her teacher acknowledged me with a smile and a nod as she walked towards the students standing outside the door to tell them they could go inside the classroom. At the same time, a different teacher asked what I was doing. When I explained what was going on, she smiled and responded, “She’ll never forget her homework again.”

Then I drew closer to Jenna’s classroom door. I watched her take out her homework folder, and walk over to the homework box…which was conveniently located near the door. She refused to look over at me as she turned it in…still too embarrassed that Mom was there. I smiled, then turned and walked down the hall.

Mission accomplished.


It’s been two weeks since that fateful day, and she has remembered to turn in her homework every school day since.  Let’s hope we never have to walk the halls of homework shame again
.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: Inferno

As the days become shorter and cooler, I return to reading for stress relief and relaxation. I'd much rather read than watch TV.

I started reading Inferno by Dan Brown on our way to Washington DC about three weeks ago. As we visited the monuments and sites, I kept thinking of another Dan Brown book The Lost Symbol which was set in DC.

Inferno takes place mostly in Italy...first in Florence and then in Venice. If I could pick just one country in Europe to visit, it would be Italy. Reading this book intensified my desire to tour Italia.

Inferno is the fourth thriller-mystery I've read by Dan Brown...in addition to aforementioned The Lost Symbol, I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons (my favorite). Whenever I read Dan Brown, I remember years ago when I was sitting in Relief Society and a sister mentioned "minds were being corrupted" with a best-selling novel titled The Da Vinci Code...the very book sitting on my nightstand at the time. If that's true, I'm a lost cause.

The story in Inferno followed a familiar Brown pattern...someone dies, and certainly more people are going down (perhaps all civilization as we know it) if Robert Langdon (aka Tom Hanks) can't piece together a chain of clues found in art, architecture, literature and historical relics. It's entertainment and heart-pounding tension all rolled into one. Brown got me again with a plot twist I didn't see coming...a turn of events so bizarre this time around I wasn't sure if I was buying what Brown was selling.

All the same, it was a good read with a historical-Italian backdrop. In typical Brown fashion, there are ancient religious symbols and themes throughout the book...some of them interesting and others disturbing. In Inferno, the concepts of population control and genetic engineering were troubling and thought-provoking at the same time.

While not my favorite Brown novel, Inferno is a good read on many accounts. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

I grew up in a true college town, home of Texas A&M University. Life revolved around A&M. The community was built up around the campus, and literally wouldn’t exist without the school. Our town was named after the train stop, College Station.

My father earned a PhD and was a college professor. Most of my friends had parents working at the university. My mother was a secretary at the school district. As a family, we were proponents of the public education system.

I had excellent teachers all through school. Many of my teachers had masters’ degrees. In my senior year, my English teacher had a PhD. She could have taught at the university, but she preferred the high school where her children were attending.

In an environment with so much emphasis on education, we studied very hard. Even with a 4.0, I barely made it into the top 10% of my class. My friends all attended college after graduation…most of them at major universities. I graduated from BYU with a BA in Communications. My goal is to return to school for an MBA.

With my background, it’s no surprise why I feel strongly about supporting our schools. Placing a high value on education is practically in my DNA.

This week I became agonizingly aware that many members of our community do not share my passion for supporting public education. To be fair, I will be more specific and state they don’t wish to support education through a tax increase. With 47% voter turnout, the levy was defeated 884 “for” and 1600 “against”.

There have been many public comments from “against” voters who have stated, “This isn’t a vote against teachers, but a vote against higher taxes.”

However, the naysayers forget that teachers wanted this levy. The teachers pleaded to the community for it. They donated towards the campaign through their teachers’ union. Many went door-to-door explaining the need for additional funding to their neighbors. Understandably, morale is low among these public servants.  As one longtime teacher painfully explained her feelings, “It’s tough to get motivated for the new school year knowing two-thirds of the community doesn’t support us.”

As I read a letter-to-the-editor in our local paper stating the “majority has spoken
 and our elected officials had better take note, I reflected on my “minority” status on this issue. I realized that it’s not unusual for me to be numbered among the minority.

I was one of 15 LDS kids in a high school of 1500 students. That’s 1%...very much a minority. In every presidential election I’ve voted in, my candidate has been elected only three times…one Democrat and two Republicans (same guy, voted for him twice). Of our two state senators, I voted for one (I’m not a tea party fan). I fight for the small, not-for-profit credit unions over the ginormous multi-billion dollar banks. The list goes on, but I won’t bore you with my personal politics.

I may often find myself on the losing end of a political battle, but I do not consider myself numbered among losers. I have found the road less traveled to have people of enduring integrity and strong morals. As I look to the men and women with whom I was aligned in supporting the levy, I am honored to belong to the minority.

I have only two regrets in becoming involved in this process. The first is getting thrust into the local social media train wreck, and the second is not winning enough votes to provide our teachers with the resources they so desperately need. Within hours of the election results, I selected myself out of the FB drama club. And the next day at 6:30 a.m., after only three hours of sleep, I was sitting with my fellow trustees of the Morgan Education Foundation…discussing our plans for fundraising events to benefit our schools. It felt great!

If you can read this, thank a teacher.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Doing The Right Thing

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I think the election will go on June 25th.

My response: I think it’s going to be close, and it could go either way.

We need every vote we can get for the levy to pass. Every registered voter in Morgan County needs to make it a priority to cast a ballot. Take your spouse, your adult children, your neighbor…anyone you know…take them with you to vote on Tuesday.

I got more than I bargained for when I agreed to publicly and actively support the levy. It’s been intense and time-consuming. Politics isn’t really my thing. But I could not silently stand by with the attacks being launched at our administrators, school board and teachers…not when I had researched the issues and learned the truth. Fortunately, I became acquainted with other concerned parents and citizens who felt the same way. We joined together and named our organization For Morgan Kids.

We created a mission statement and it’s remained solid throughout this campaign. We have not changed our position on the issues surrounding the levy. We are not a political group that has re-organized ourselves under a different name. We have no personal agendas.   

We believe it is our stewardship to support Morgan County School District administrators and teachers in the education of our children. That support comes in many forms, including a means to provide sustainable and meaningful funding for our schools. The best proposed solution to meet the immediate funding needs of Morgan County School District is the voted local levy. We trust our school board will allocate the funds in a responsible manner that is both in compliance with the law and in the best interests of our children.

It’s not about winning an election, it’s about doing the right thing.

We invite you to join with us on June 25th in voting for the levy. Polling locations are at Morgan County Courthouse and Mountain Green Elementary School, beginning at 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

You can learn more about For Morgan Kids at www.ForMorganKids.com

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vote YES on June 25th

Want hundreds of people to agree with you? Easy. 

All you need to say is “I hate tax increases.”

Want to get people fired up? Simple. 

Tell them how much elected officials waste taxpayers' hard-earned money on unneeded pet projects and programs.

Several months ago I found myself sitting in Superintendent Ken Adam’s office. (The school district’s office is far from impressive. It is a refurbished 1960s rambler…reflective of the conservative nature of the community. The board meetings are held in the area that was once the garage, where the only a/c is an open window.)

While chatting with Mr. Adams, he told me about the upcoming voted local levy election. I had been aware of the financial issues the school district was facing because of conversations I’d had with teachers and my daughter's own over-crowded classroom. However, I was unaware of the extent of the district’s financial woes until I met personally with Mr. Adams.

In March/April, I attended three different meetings where Mr. Adams presented information about the levy. I listened to opposing points of view at those meetings. I spent an hour in Business Manager D’Lynn Poll’s office asking questions about budget allocations…and sent her dozens of follow-up emails. 

I contacted a co-worker who lives in St George and has served on the Washington School Board for the past nine years...we spent an hour speaking specifically about the levy in his community. 

I printed out every page of the opposition’s anti-levy website, went through the text point-by-point, and outlined their concerns. 

I communicated with local and state school board members. I talked to local administrators, teachers, neighbors and friends. I discussed the matter with members of the county council and the chamber of commerce. 

And finally, last week, I attended the town hall meeting sponsored by the opposition group to learn more about their solutions to provide needed financing for our children’s education.

I’ve done my homework…and that’s why I’m not drinking the anti-levy Kool-Aid.

For me, this issue isn’t about a small tax increase (my property taxes will increase less than $100/annually with the proposed rate). 

It’s not about whether or not I agree with every budget decision made by the board (which is approved and audited by the state board of education). 

And it certainly isn’t about the war of words on community Facebook pages (taking the phrase "stirring the pot" to levels I didn't realize existed in Morgan).

Rather, this issue is about providing much needed funding for our schools. It’s about reducing class sizes and providing basic resources to run effective classrooms. It's about supporting teachers. It’s about our kids.

Yes, most organizations can find ways to operate more efficiently, and the Morgan County School District is likely no different. But finding small pockets of dollars here and there, including community fundraising events, will not provide the significant, consistent source of funds needed.

Is the levy the ideal plan to fund our schools?  "Ideal"…no. But, I believe it is our most viable option to address the immediate financial challenges faced by our schools.  

If it passes will my taxes increase? Yes…about $100 per year.

Do I like tax increases? No.

Do I understand that 100% of a minor tax increase will go directly to classroom instruction? Yes.

Is it worth it? That remains to be seen. I’m voting for it and I'll hold the school board and administration accountable in their stewardship.

Do I trust the intentions and believe in the integrity of our school board and administration? Yes.

The reasons why Ryan and I will be voting for the levy can be found on the website www.ForMorganKids.com. I encourage you to take a few minutes and review the FAQ section. The content has been researched extensively to be as accurate and educational as possible. No drama.

Finally, visit the Supporters page. You’ll likely find a friend or neighbor on the list. If so, ask them why they support the levy. I’ll bet you a cookie it isn’t because they enjoy paying higher taxes. Rather, they understand the greater good that comes from investing a little more money in the children who live in our community. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Supporting Our Schools

I attended the Morgan County School Board meeting tonight. It was standing room only with no A/C on a day when temperatures were in the high 80s. Whew!

I was there to show support for the school board, administration, and members of a group that we belong to named For Morgan Kids. Parents and concerned citizens have organized ourselves into this group to actively campaign for the voted local levy. Two representatives from For Morgan Kids addressed the school board tonight. (You can learn more about For Morgan Kids and the issues at hand at www.formorgankids.com.)

Why are we putting ourselves "out there" in publicly supporting a political issue in a small community? Quite simply, because we believe this levy is the right thing to do for our daughters' education. We have studied the issues, and feel there are no other viable short-term solutions to the financial crisis our schools are facing right now.

One of the top two reasons Ryan and I moved to Mountain Green in 2009 was for the schools. We value life-long learning, and appreciate the role that the public school system plays in our daughters' formal education. 

We recognize that teachers play a vital role in test scores and graduation rates. In addition, we understand that teachers can be more effective with smaller class sizes, professional development days and other resources. We need the levy to help our educators have a more productive teaching environment.

My 5th grader has 34 students in her class. Research shows she may earn $30 an hour, which equates to $240 for an 8-hour work day. Divide that by 34 students, and she's earning $7.06 per student per day. In comparison, I pay her piano teacher about $10 for a 30 minute lesson once a week! Our public schools are the best bargain money can buy. But make no mistake...public schools may not charge tuition, but they are not free. Funding schools is the responsibility of tax payers.

We are at the bottom 15% of school districts in Utah in per pupil spending...and Utah is the lowest state in the nation in per pupil spending. Morgan County School District is at the bottom of the bottom. We can and should do better for our children and teachers. Much better.

Ryan and I do not like taxes, but this voted local levy is different. We have estimated that our property taxes will go up about $100 annually with the levy proposed for the 2013-14 school year. That's less than $10 per month, and most certainly affordable. We know that every dime will go to instruction for the Morgan County Schools that are educating our children.

We agree that Morgan County should do more to attract businesses to help alleviate the tax burden. However, that is a long-term solution and we have an immediate financial crisis in our schools. Furthermore, we don't hold our elected school board officials accountable for economic development in our community...that is not their stewardship.

In conclusion, there is this reason for supporting the levy...we feel a sense of loyalty to the local school system. 

Our children are the fifth generation attending Morgan Schools. Ryan grew up in Croydon, graduating from Morgan High in '95. His mom, Sherolyn Wilde, is MHS Class of '74. Her parents, Reed Wilde and Camille Fry, were officers for the class of '47. Reed's father, M.R. Wilde, was in the MHS class of '22. Go Trojans!

To the school board...thanks for governing our schools. You have a team of parents and citizens supporting this cause. You are doing the right thing.

And to Superintendent Ken Adams, thanks for all you have done for Morgan Schools during your career. Ryan and I congratulate you on your retirement, and wish you all the best for whatever the future holds.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Quote of the Day

Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” - John F. Kennedy

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quote of the Day

"A river cuts through rock, not because of it's power, but because of it's persistence." -Jim Watkins

Friday, April 19, 2013

I’m Voting “Yes”


I’m voting in favor of the Voted Local Levy for Morgan County, Utah. The levy is a tax that will generate funds to benefit students who are educated by Morgan School District.

In the first year of the levy, the school board will assess a total of $350,000 from home, business and land owners in the county. However, the school board can lawfully assess up to $1.3 million annually from taxpayers.The board has stated it is their intent to keep the assessment at $350k, yet there is no guarantee. We simply cannot look into a crystal ball and determine every cost and expenditure for the next five years.

In multiple presentations given to community, the administration and school board have repeatedly stated the funds will be used for:
  1. Class size reduction;
  2. Remediation (special education, mathematics);
  3. Professional development; and,
  4. Extensions (ACT prep, math, science, language arts).
Upon taking a closer look at the needs of the school district, I’ve questioned if $350k is sufficient. The school board is not padding the budget with pet projects and perks. I wish our elected officials in Washington, D.C. were as mindful of tax-paying citizens as our school board.

In the community meetings and in newspaper editorials, citizens have commented that the school district should operate more like a business. Or, we must cut the fat and live within our means. While this may make sense on the surface, it’s not that simple. You cannot manage a public sector organization like a private business. There are too many federal and state legislatively-mandated issues in public education. They are two different animals.

There has also been public criticism about the compensation offered to board members…$3,000 annually plus health insurance premiums. This compensation is permitted by the state, and consistent with school districts across Utah. Consider that board members spend 20+ hours each month creating/reviewing policies, managing budgets, lobbying with elected officials and ensuring the district is in compliance with legislative requirements. If we want to attract qualified candidates to board positions, a small token of appreciation in the form of a less-than-generous compensation package is well-justified. Most people only “volunteer” for that many hours of unpaid service when they are called to do so by their religious leaders.

I have two daughters who attend Mountain Green Elementary…a 5th grader and 2nd grader. They are fortunate to have dedicated teachers who care not only for their educational experience, but also for their personal well-being. The same can be said for the principal and staff. I consider these educators and service providers as partners in raising our children. Why would I short-change people who spend seven hours each day with my girls? These educators need a teaching environment with smaller class sizes and greater resources. We need more professional services, such as speech pathologists and reading specialists. Gratefully, we have a team of community volunteers who donate hundreds of hours each week in our classrooms. But these volunteers do not replace professionals who have been educated, trained and certified to teach our children. Good teachers are the key to high test scores and graduation rates. And make no mistake, good teachers and professional service providers are in high demand. They will leave Morgan to better support their families in competing school districts with more generous compensation packages, smaller classroom sizes, and greater resources.

Families that value education choose to live in Morgan for more than the scenery and clean air…they live here for the schools. To maintain the strength of our community, we need to maintain the quality of our educational system. If test scores and graduation rates decline, the desirability of living in Morgan will decrease. The domino effect will have economic impacts far beyond the dollars assessed with the levy.

Although I am philosophically opposed to most tax increases, I would vote in the affirmative for the Voted Local Levy even if the school board stated upfront they will assess $1.3 million in the first year (although I strongly believe the school board will remain extremely conservative in their requests and govern their stewardship with integrity). As parents and responsible citizens we should look for opportunities to give our children the best educational experience possible. As a community, we have reached the point of diminishing returns for cutting corners and trimming budgets.

If you have made it to the end of this long post…congratulations. I appreciate your time and consideration. 

The Voted Local Levy will be held June 25thPlease arrange your schedules to vote in this important election.

For complete details of the Voted Local Levy, I encourage you to visit the Morgan School District website.

On a side note: This is my personal blog, and the views expressed here are my own. Your comments are welcome. However, I reserve the right to delete any comments I believe defame citizens in our community, especially administrators and school board members. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marriage

It's been so long since I've written a personal blog post I had forgotten how to log-on. But alas, here I am and this is what I want to say:

I'm pro-traditional marriage. 

That doesn't mean I'm anti-gay. I'm not a hater. I believe we are all God's children, and he loves us. All of us. He has commanded each of us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Therefore, I choose to accept God's will and love my brothers and sisters in His family. All of them.

I also believe marriage is a God-sanctioned union between a man and a woman. Adam and Eve were the first husband-wife couple on Earth. Marriage was defined, by God, from the beginning at the creation.

Regardless of the governmental laws created by and for man in regards to who can legally marry whom, I will stand by my position of pro-traditional marriage.

Some people may respond to this post (or to me personally) by saying I am a bigot or uneducated or narrow-minded or discriminating. I'm okay with that. If Starbucks wants me to sell my stock (if I did have SB stock) for stating my position...fine. If I'm not welcome by some organizations or groups for my beliefs, so be it. 

I'll stand up for my core values. I wish not to offend...only to state my position. Thank you.