The MCCSC referendum funding: An argument for doing what’s best for students

Someone claimed in the Bloomington Herald-Times that no one has come forward to say he or she voted for the Monroe County Community School Corp. referendum just so the school board could decide how to spend the money, or words to that effect.

Well, I cast one of the 18,701 votes in favor of the referendum. I urged my friends to vote for the referendum. I wrote on this blog that people should support it. I even stood in the cold on Election Day and told strangers they should vote to raise their taxes, even though some of them probably couldn’t afford a tax increase.

Why? Speaking only for myself, I wanted to restore lost funding so the MCCSC would have a better chance at meeting the needs of all of its students. I was encouraged when I heard Superintendent J.T. Coopman and board members say – on multiple occasions – that the referendum would support early-literacy and drop-out prevention programs. But I didn’t take that as a promise.

I assumed decisions about spending the money would be made in the same way that important school budget decisions should always be made: by a democratically elected school board in a public, transparent process that includes honest discussion and a free exchange of ideas and opinions. I hoped board members would respect the advice of MCCSC administrators and listen with an open mind to teachers, students, parents and citizens before making up their minds.

Now the district’s budget committee has recommended restoring most, but not all, of the positions and programs that were eliminated last year, while adding support for literacy in the early grades and alternative education in middle and high school. And people are accusing the board of going back on a promise to put back everything that was cut.

Some argue that the MCCSC shouldn’t add any programs until it hires a “real” superintendent. This idea has some appeal, insulting as it may be to Interim Superintendent Tim Hyland, other central-office administrators and the district’s 20 school principals.

But if the argument is valid, the board should also hold off on reducing class sizes, reinstituting coaching and extracurricular stipends, and restoring music and world-language programs. Those decisions will tie the hands of the next superintendent just as much as adding literacy coaches and intervention staff.

The MCCSC doesn’t exist in a vacuum, no matter how much we might pretend that Bloomington isn’t part of Indiana. The reading rule that the State Board of Education approved this month will require our schools to retain students in third grade if they don’t pass a new state reading test. School officials say at least 30 percent of MCCSC third-graders aren’t reading at grade level. The school board has a moral obligation to help the schools do everything they can to ensure that young students learn to read.

Finally, it’s disappointing that none of the people who advocate restoring all positions has seen fit to talk about Aurora High School, the alternative school that closed last year because of funding cuts. Should it reopen, even though its building has been converted to an MCCSC health clinic? Should students who don’t fit in at other high schools be left out in the cold? The “restore all” supporters have been silent.

I don’t blame people for advocating for the programs they see as important to their own children. If my kids were still in school, I probably would do the same. But it would be nice if, just this once, they showed some awareness of other people’s children too.

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