by Frances Edstrom
Congratulations are in order to the Dist. 861 school board for balancing its budget. It should also be said that for the first time in a long time, we have school board members who are willing to challenge the information they receive from administration and demand real answers to their questions.
For too long public school administration in Winona, and much of the rest of the nation, has been operating in an all-out assault on the taxpayers for the enrichment of the bureaucrats and unions, but to the detriment of education.
Helped along by arcane financial systems and a network of political lobbyists, public school districts have been able to bamboozle and frustrate elected school board members who finally throw up their hands and cry "Uncle!" right before they vote to hold another spending referendum.
Perhaps the present school board has been helped by the economic situation in the country, which has led the taxpayer to the conclusion that if belts need tightening, they should be tightened all around. In any case, board members were tenacious and rather than taking the easy route "” either throwing in the towel or throwing in with the administration and unions "” have fulfilled the obligations of their office.
Board member Natalie Siderius seemed to speak for others on the board when she said that as long as she has been on the school board, they have "never talked about education."
It's about time, I would say. If public education is to be viable here and elsewhere, education is exactly what needs to be addressed.
I remember when Dist. 861 voted to close Ridgeway, and those parents announced they would seek to make it a charter school. A Dist. 861 employee told me Ridgeway would never make it, because those parents didn't understand the complexity of running a school and educational system.
I think those who don't understand education are the public school bureaucrats. Good parents have always been their children's first and best teachers, and helped by of all people, former Gov. Rudy Perpich, have mounted the biggest challenge to public education that we have ever seen.
Parents "” who have their neighborhood schools taken away, see their kids moved around for the convenience of the bureaucracy, get no response when they express concern about curriculum, etc. "” are finally finding a voice. They got tired of being silenced at PTA meetings by public humiliation and intimidation, so used their feet to send their message by moving their kids out of the system.
Not only school board members, but the public school bureaucracy and its parent boosters must take a real look at what is happening. It's time to remove the blinders of "school spirit," and see that some parents are showing their muscle, having tired of a system that talks only of more money and rarely of better education. It's time to realize that the system is failing more than a few children, and that often those children have no effective parent advocates, and so go unnoticed and uneducated.
What the bureaucrats and their toadies didn't bank on was that as the disenfranchised left the system, there would be fewer and fewer people to marshal to feed the insatiable machine that public education has become.
It was a long, tough fight, but Siderius and her fellow board members have succeeded, at least for now, in shrugging off the chains of the educational establishment. Let's hope they stick to their guns.
Without Dist. 861 administration always writing the agenda "” let's talk money so there is never time to talk about anything else "” perhaps the school board might yet address the subject of education in Dist. 861. With a new superintendent about to take over, dare we hope for the best?