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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.