Thursday, May 08, 2003

Hebron Crossroads 5-11
By Jeff Gill

Five Years to Re-focus

There was a moment last Tuesday evening, at the Lakewood levy offices on Main Street, when it was impossible to believe that the energy and organization and spirit behind passing the five year increase in funds for our schools wouldn’t pass.

Then many of us went down to Newark and downstairs in the county building to the grey, windowless room where so much disappointment has washed over our enthusiasm for "the most improved school district in Ohio." Could it happen this time? If it didn’t the last time, times, six times, why now? Since 1993 we haven’t gotten a consensus around full funding of our schools, and what’s different about 2003?

Well, as the wait drug out on what should have been a fast count (Etna Township is a bit further out, after all), spirits actually rose with our impatience. What’s different? From turnout at public meetings to rousing pancake breakfasts to stalwart volunteers calling through their voter lists, quite a bit was different this time.
And the smiles toward the Lakewood crowd from officials who shall remain nameless that had snuck back through the count room while the heavily loaded turtles strolled up from Reynoldsburg were a fairly good hint.

Lakewood staff started imagining the wording of how they were going to post kindergarten teacher openings, coaches and directors started dreaming of new seasons and productions, and. . .well, this correspondent started thinking about what could yet be achieved in our school district with all the time, money, and energy that doesn’t have to go into running levy campaigns for the next five years.

So I’m glad Christine and Jim Dobos can really work on soccer, with those kid’s leagues out at Evans Park playing their hearts out on Wednesdays and Saturdays without any tax money behind them. I’m very happy for Beth and Scott Walters who can now call family members without their asking "what do we have to do this weekend?" And I’m sure J-me and Emil Bogden have ways to use their organizing skills other than collating databases Rick Anthony has complied for them. And that’s just naming a very, very few.
For dozens of hard working people (parents, staff, folks who just plain care), all of this has been a great community building experience, but now we can turn this kind of effort towards building up anew, instead of re-building the foundation out from under an already fully used structure.

We’ve already demonstrated the effect of our continuous improvement plan with the achievement standards, and sadly, for two years worth of children who went back to half-day kindergarten, we’ve proved the necessity of fully funding our district in order to give every child a fair shot at reading confidently and fluently.

What can we prove over the next five years without the distraction of bond issues for new buildings or levy campaigns to keep the basic bills paid for our economical and economically sound school district?

One thing we need to prove to our schoolchildren and to children not yet born, let alone in the classrooms, is that Ohio can come up with a fair and equitable funding system for free public education. Something didn’t change with the win for the levy Tuesday night, and that’s the need to start the next campaign as soon as the last one is over: but this campaign isn’t to pass a new levy (though 2008 will get here soon enough, and my little guy a fourth grader then), but to start talking to our elected officials about a new funding system. Somewhere between property taxes (a necessary stable base of income), income taxes (a handy way to keep the load off of seniors with retirement income exemptions), and sales taxes (seen as fair, but unduly heavy on low-income folks as a percentage of income), there’s got to be an answer that doesn’t entail superintendents and principals and teachers having to be skilled politicos and part-time campaigners every three to five years.

Perhaps a public forum for parents and taxpayers in the Lakewood auditorium with David Evans, Jay Hottinger, Larry Householder, and a few other well-placed players. I’ve got a few questions about the proficiency test system, too. . .

All righty, then: next week, back to general, cheery, even gossipy notes of general interest! For that matter, on Saturday May 10, if you see some odd plumes of smoke down on Cumberland by the Nazarene Church, it isn’t the girls softball team making their bats burn with RBIs. The Hebron Fire Department is burning down a house (cue the Talking Heads music); actually, burning it down repeatedly (until they get it right?) as a training exercise. Shows at 8, 10, Noon and 2, please keep your distance!

And a very happy Mother’s Day to all; I look forward to smelling grills all over Hebron Sunday afternoon.

Closing note to anonymous angry phone callers all working off of the same script: "separation of church and state" appears as a phrase in a letter by Thomas Jefferson; the Constitutional provision you’re thinking of is the First Amendment, starting with "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. . ." Your suggestion that as a pastor I should "keep my mouth shut" on public issues is in fact the one real unconstitutional idea in this discussion. But hey, mean-spirited nameless notes and messages are also covered by the same provision, so keep it up if you wish: isn’t this a great country?

Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and happy to upset all the right people; if you have news of local interest of want to help organize a public forum on school funding (which will still probably not please some people), call 928-4066 or e-mail