Kevin Hoover: No On Measure Q – October 30, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

If you’ve attended a meeting of the Northern Humboldt Union High School District Governing Board, or any public school board, you know the horror of education being defunded and the cruel choices having to be made by administrators and boardmembers.

There’s no doubt that reinvestment in Arcata and McKinleyville High School facilities and personnel is more than warranted, and a bond issue is a reasonable means of taking care of that first problem.

But Measure Q is like a starving panhandler begging for money to buy a diamond necklace, one he hasn’t even picked out yet.

Some of the trophy items on the list of proposed projects are underplanned at best, and the cost-benefit hasn’t been adequately examined, if at all. We’re asked to buy first, learn details later.

In the what-were-they-thinking? department:

A $7 million performing arts center for Arcata High would be an almost obscenely opulent indulgence for a school struggling to maintain basic curriculum. It would surely be used on occasions when rentable facilities such as the D Street Neighborhood Center, Bayside Grange, Portuguese Hall and Community Center sit idle and available for comparatively modest cost.

Some of the trophy items on the list of proposed projects are underplanned at best, and the cost-benefit hasn’t been adequately examined, if at all. We’re asked to buy first, learn details later.

The one that truly boggles the mind is $2 million for a astroturf fields. Really, guys – giant lumps of petroleum-based plastic?

Here’s an equally preposterous idea, one that might have come up had the NHUHSD done any serious public outreach: plant hardy athletic-grade turf, then buy 40 hand mowers and form a Student Mowing Club. Have students swarm the field with the mowers a couple of times a week. You’d save fuel, oxygen and help the pasty kids offset the hours they spend physically rotting away on Facebook. Can you imagine the positive publicity the schools would get for doing something so innovative and environmentally positive?

Capping the bass-ackward priorities list is the NHUHSD’s degrading journalism down to a mere club. The multi-level wrongheadedness of this simply staggers the imagination.

School district officials and parents have written numerous letters to newspapers advocating for Measure Q, while at the same time making it harder for students to train in this profession.

The district obviously considers newspapers to have some useful role in informing the community, but unless students sacrifice their personal time, the school won’t provide sufficient skills to staff these same newspapers in the future. The currently-vogue term for this is a “disconnect.”

Further, the Journalism class cost the district one-half of one teacher’s time. So, $2 million for astroturf, but not even one-thousandth of that to sustain democracy’s best friend.

The Journalism class cost the district one-half of one teacher’s time. So, $2 million for astroturf, but not even one-thousandth of that to sustain democracy’s best friend.

This even though the Arcata High Pepperbox newspaper – a tradition dating back to the 1920s – pays for itself through advertising.

These days, the journalism students are hunkered down, working as if in some authoritarian developing country and making their newspaper despite, not because of the school. They’re eager to perform the grueling work of community journalism, overcoming the obstacles the school and district have thrown in their path.

Superintendent Ken Richards states that Journalism was dropped at Arcata High because “only three to five students signed up for the class.” But last spring, the district’s guidance counselors not only didn’t recommend Journalism, they were, according to students, calling the students in and urging them to drop the class.

Tell students to drop out of J class, then blame lack of enrollment. Let’s all get out our dictionaries (if the school still supplies those quaint artifacts) and look up “disingenuous.” Maybe “passive aggression,” too.

Having known Richards for more than 20 years, I continue to have confidence in his leadership. But he, the NHUHSD board and AHS administration are way out of whack on this one. We just have to make it clear to these well-intentioned people what a horrendous misjudgment they’re making.

If there’s a vision here, it’s of well-trained student athlete/artists performing in lobotomized ignorance of their own community, with only beastly bloggers, special-interest community activists and government press releases to tell them what’s going on in their world. And this is supposed to be about the future?

The students on the newspaper are the good ones – the kids who, against all odds these days have developed a work ethic, who have disciplined intellects and who are pleading to perform a vital function for society. They even work through lunch.

Measure Q isn’t about journalism, but that class’s erosion by an uncaring NHUHSD is part of the same priority-distortion field that brought us Q’s fancy wish list.

Athletics and arts are essential to a complete education, just like journalism. All can be well accomplished without millions in new spending.

Handing a multimillion-dollar pot of cash over to anyone and just hoping they’ll spend it wisely is about the worst idea imaginable in this day and age.

When the Arcata Fire Protection District needed funding to do its ever more-demanding job adequately, it mounted a vigorous community outreach campaign to educate citizens and gain feedback in support of its proposed benefit assessment. Firefighters held dozens of neighborhood meetings and talks with service clubs and community groups.

Even at that, it took two elections to gain vitally needed funds to protect public safety. And that was for less than $2 million. Measure Q would haul in $25.8 million.

Handing a multimillion-dollar pot of cash over to anyone and just hoping they’ll spend it wisely is about the worst idea imaginable in this day and age. Doing so would probably be an extremely divisive exercise for the high school district, as the various potential beneficiaries scramble and fight over the available riches. It’s not a good way to ensure that the dollars are applied thoughtfully.

Let’s rally the community to shape a bond measure that will support education completely and cost-effectively. Let’s really do that, and start on it right after the election.

With its feckless set of baubles and lack of community involvement, the NHUHSD’s Measure Q is a poor deal for both education and taxpayers.

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