When I was in my 20s, I thought I was pretty smart. But if I’ve learned anything as I’ve grown older, it’s that I know less every day. The recent debates over the Bowling Green City Schools tax issue are reminding me that there’s a lot I don’t know.
I don’t know what’s best for kids.
I’ve heard good arguments, backed by research, that the smaller numbers of students in neighborhood schools are best. I’ve heard good arguments, backed by research, that the richer educational opportunities and financial savings of a consolidated elementary are best.
And I’ve heard that the current plan in BG — modeled off of those in other districts who’ve consolidated elementaries already — brings these two together, creating small learning communities within a single building.
I don’t know what’s best for farmers.
I have seen with my own eyes that this was an historically awful year for our region’s farmers. I know that our state “leadership” the past few decades has pushed a lot of the burden of property tax onto them. I believe that a plan that calls exclusively on property tax hurts them worse than it hurts me.
I don’t know what’s best for folks who work in other jobs.
I think our town has a whole lot of people who live paycheck to paycheck, and that a local income tax is pretty regressive, and hurts the less-fortunate disproportionately. I know that a plan that calls exclusively on income tax would hurt them terribly. And I know that the current plan — as opponents to prior plans specifically suggested — blends both.
I don’t know how to fix the unconscionable mess our state legislature has made of local funding.
The DeRolph decision, which declared our state’s funding scheme unconstitutional, is now old enough to get drunk. House Bill 920 forces an endless stream of levy requests. Charter school funding is taken from districts instead of being directly funded by the state.
But there are a couple of things I do know.
In 2014, my ‘99 Corolla had more miles than a trip to the moon and needed a new engine. The doors were laced with rust. The air conditioning was toast. The guys at my shop absolutely did not say “Hey Joe, you should really put a couple grand into that thing!”
That’s where we’re at with the elementaries. Renovation and expansion isn’t going to cut it. These aren’t the architectural wonders of the 1910s and ‘20s that were built to last — they were midcentury cookie-cutter buildings. We’ve got a couple of Geo Metros, and the previous owners didn’t exactly keep up with the oil changes.
Could we fix them? Well, yeah … but won’t doing everything that needs to be done – and anticipating that other aging problems will rear their head down the road – just cost more in the long run than biting the bullet now?
Here’s another thing I know: The status quo is unacceptable.
BG’s kids are deprived of resources and strategies that cannot be provided in the facilities we have; resources kids in every other county district already have — and many have had for a decade or more.
If Bowling Green doesn’t approve this ballot issue on Tuesday, we may or may not get neighborhood schools. But we’ll definitely get the status quo for a few more years.
This plan doesn’t give anyone everything they want. It doesn’t spend all the money to put a new school in every neighborhood. It doesn’t come free, which would obviously be awesome. Both of those extremes seem irreconcilable, and frankly, impossible in this community.
Bismarck famously said that politics is the art of the possible. Is the current plan best?
I don’t know. I think it is.
But I know it’s possible.