Of Better Bond and Unicorns Pt. 2

One of the recurring themes we hear from the Vote No campaign is that, if this GO Bond fails, then we could easily have another bond up in 6 months, a “better bond.” Usually this unicorn-shaped financial proposal is supposedly smaller, but also somehow includes extra projects, still delivers air conditioning in a timely fashion, and is attractive to voters all across the district.

One of the more concrete “better bond” arguments is the notion that this bond should have been broken up into a series of smaller bonds.  Director Liebig has mounted this as an argument for voting against this bond, despite not making any such proposal to the board during the meetings and work sessions where the current bond was formulated.

Whatever one thinks about the Bond we might have had, former ICCSD BoE Director Jeff McGuiness pointed out the problem with voting down the current Bond proposal in order to get there:

Honest question for those wanting “smaller bonds?” For one, there seems to be a disconnect on what exactly that means. Some seem to want the same proposal but just split up and specific.  Others, including some board candidates, want to redo and rework the whole bond. So, which is it?

Coupled with that, what process do you propose for involving the community in the development of possible plans? How many listening posts and community engagement sessions do you envision? What alternative methods would you propose to getting feedback from those unable to attend? What level of involvement and partnership do you foresee having with our community leaders and municipalities? Will you give them a “seat at the table” so they can be involved and, if so, how many meetings do you foresee with them? Do you plan on having the admin and CFO cost the operational effect of these proposed plans ….namely, the plans effect on class sizes? If you truly feel a new plan can be developed and presented in 6 months I truly want to hear the timeline and process …..unless the “plan” is to just have the board make a decision without any community involvement …….”

These are the kind of hard questions that I’d advise you to ask of anyone who tells you we can have a better bond–that is a better bond that is recognized as such by multiple stakeholders all across the District– in 6 months.  Or a year for that matter.

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I also want to say a few words here about Jeff McGuiness, and about the current state of the ICCSD Board of Education. There were two issues that drew me in to school district politics in the ICCSD in 2012.  One of those was campaigning for air conditioning at Twain elementary, which led into into being engaged in the development of the Facilities Master Plan, and advocating for the Revenue Purpose Statement that funded the first half of that plan.  The other was advocating for the Diversity Policy.  Jeff McGuiness was on the Board of Education for both of these, and I spent a good amount of time being grateful for his presence there, and an equal amount of time being annoyed with him.

I was annoyed because, while Jeff was a strong advocate for the RPS and the FMP and while he spoke in favor of some of the Diversity Policy’s goals, he ultimately voted against the policy, which passed the board on a 4-3 vote.

But, here’s the thing:  After losing that vote, I saw Jeff put his shoulder to the wheel and put real work, intellectual and physical, into getting that policy he had voted against implemented and trying to make sure that was done in a way that truly met the goals of the policy itself and of the people who had voted for it. He spent hours in meetings and work sessions and listening posts and on social media making arguments on behalf of a policy that he’d voted against. He did this because, despite his objections, he saw the good that the policy could do if implemented correctly, and because it was a policy that had been adopted by the board, by vote.

This is unimaginable on the current board, where Directors who lose votes take their case to the local papers, or where they don’t even seem to make an effort to shape policy that they might lose votes on, so they can more effectively undermine it in public.  Its easy enough to sneer at the notion of good board citizenship as some kind of stodgy and limiting protocol.  And its true that individual board members should listen to their consciences regarding policy.  But if this is done without any regard for the will of the board as expressed in votes, then we may as well not have votes at all, as each member simply moves forward regarding adopted policies as they will.  Increasingly, over the last two years, this looks less like conscience at work, and more like ego.

Today, we have the power as voters to fund the last projects on the Facilities Master Plan, and materially improve the lives of thousands of students in our District.  We also have the chance to add Directors to the Board who are willing to work together on solutions to the District’s problems, who understand the kind of give and take necessary for a democratic board in a highly engaged, fractious District, and who will work for all of the families in the District, not just the ones that voted for them or the PACS that funded their campaigns.  Lets do that.

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Author: Eric D. Johnson

I do American Studies (PhD University of Iowa 2012) scholarship, including but not limited to: Race and Genre in American Popular Music, Critical Southern Studies, and African American Memory and History in the Ozarks. I also write about educational policy and politics, focusing on integration and desegregation and the intersection of school and housing policies.

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