Neosho is an awesome school, but we need everyone's input, expertise and vote of confidence to stay awesome! Awesome takes work and facing some often harsh self-images for the purpose of improvement.
Please disregard any typos or grammar errors that I tend to make more freely when I feel passionately about something and I am passionate about this subject. We have needed a new Jr. High School for over 5 years.
If you are not from Neosho, but an educator or school administrator please consider reading point #4. It is true in most every community in our area.
Dear Neosho R-V Board Member;I have been hoping that this letter would not need to be written. My letter is concerning the inability to pass the increase needed for a new school. It is typically my policy to only offer solutions, not criticisms. However, I am finding it difficult to offer solutions without explaining what has gone wrong. Please set aside egos and read this with an open mind. I am hopeful that my observations may help our district get the Junior High School building that it has needed for over 5 years.
1. Our new superintendent was not given the proper chance to build a rapport with voters before he was out “with his hand in their pocketbooks”. Decker’s first contacts with community groups should have been to give a “state of the district” assessment. He should have had a year to brag on what is going well and prepared people for what he saw as challenges for the district. He needed to give people a vision to “buy into”. Instead, Decker was introduced and then sent to tell the community how badly the school needed money. I am sure it was done out of urgency, but it disengaged some voters from the feeling of being a part of improvements and made many informal community leaders with concerns appear as opposition in open forums. Additionally, it is generally believed that passing tax increases is good for a superintendent’s career so without rapport, Decker’s meetings with the public seemed self-serving to some, rather than being a genuine need in our community.Our school needs other things too, and by mentioning the building on a list of big and small things that are needed would give time for people to see progress and “buy in”. Even a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis written by/for Decker and published in the newspaper or online would have prepared voters to be a part of change.
Changes to the front of the high school surprised the community. Signs should have been up months before construction started and a media blitz should have explained how and where the money was coming from and why the front of the school was selected. The way it was handled, lead many to take the attitude “See, I voted no and they found the money in their deep pockets.”
2. A clean-up of past mistakes and misunderstandings should have occurred. Carver was a big disappointment to many voters, especially older citizens. As I have explained to Shawn Dilday and Tim Crawley, the day after Grandparents’ Day is not a positive time to get school reviews at the Senior Center and other meetings of grandparents. The lack of parking at South and Carver and the excessive walking distances at Carver are viewed dimly. Carver has never had ADA complaint parking despite complaints since the ribbon cutting event (that I could not attend because the only ramp was blocked). A second ramp and parking in the back lot was added, but the door was kept locked for 6 years. Crawley says a buzzer was added over the Summer and I look forward to using it. However, unless a note is added to the information sent home concerning Grandparents’ Day, most people won’t know that the back lot is now an option. Crawley explains that he is new and did not know of these problems, but our new leaders must fully understand our past mistakes and challenges! I was furious when I saw the artist’s depiction of the new Junior High with the disabled parking as far from the main door as possible! It told me that the district is not learning from its mistakes and it is not interested in “my” issues, which should be “our” issues. If Crawley had known that the parking at Carver is viewed negatively, he could have asked the artist to correct the drawings before they offended people.
Questions and concerns about past problems, donated land, location, and clumping so many schools close together by a bus barn needed lots of public forum exposure at community meetings, on the web, on the radio and in the newspaper before asking for money. I have heard so many people say, “the bus barn, Carver, Middle School and a Junior High that close together? What if there is a tornado? Our community will have too many assets in one place.” Plus there are concerns about traffic. Some people already feel that pickup and pulling onto Norway is too congested. If intersection improvements are planned, then this should be public knowledge.
3. The Devil is in the details…asking for millions of dollars before releasing a floor plan sketch that demonstrates good stewardship of the money is only inviting critics and “no” votes. Of course construction costs can be estimated by square footage, but voters want to know what is in that square footage. I toured the high school on a day that the air conditioning was running and the fire place was burning in the library. The nice amenity of a relaxing fireplace was instantly rebranded as “showing off” and wasting resources.
Current estimates say that 30% of our population is in arrears on one or more major loans. When people must keep their thermostat in the 60’s in the winter and people are forgoing air conditioning, neighbors have a hard time voting for an increase that will place further hardship on their friends and loved ones, especially if they are thinking that the new building could be built for less.
4. Neosho is a town of hardworking and thrifty people. It is not a town of cheap people. It is a town of people who know the value and power of a dollar. The school has presented itself at “odds” with the basic community values of stewardship and fiscal responsibility numerous times without realizing it. One example is the school supply lists. Those lists have more name brands than they should, and the name brands are even bolded. (Elmer’s ® purple glue, what is wrong with Scholastic® purple glue at ¼ of the price! Metal blade Office Depot ® scissors are identical to Fiskar’s ®at 1/3 of the price!) Post-its, Crayola, Play-doh, Eagle, Avery binders, Clorox wipes, Papermate and Ticonderoga pencils, Expo markers, and Germ-X just make me want to scream, “Who do you think we are!” (BTW- Kudos to Dr. Fox’s building which did not include a single brand name on any list! It is much appreciated.) Does the BOE realize who buys 60% of our kids’ school supplies? Let me tell you, it is grandparents. You just asked limited income patrons for more at the ballot box right after they just bought “you” brands that they don’t have in their own homes. Yes, I said “you” and not “their kids” because when the school asks for brand names it becomes about the school’s needs and not the kids’ needs. Name brands need to go!
5. Shorter Fridays cost people money. When the school day was shortened many folks found themselves searching for affordable after school care. People have turned to grandparents and the goodwill of neighbors who are now providing funds for snacks and recreation for little ones and big ones every week. Our family is adding extra hours for a nurse’s aide because my children’s medical needs cannot be met through a program like the YMCA. We are not alone because other special needs families have called me looking for affordable ideas. Our nurse’s aide costs $12.38 an hour. That may seem small, but it will equal $1,188.48 or more in new expense for our family by May 2015. Was this even considered when the BOE voted to shorten Fridays? This Friday schedule change has hit a lot of people in an already empty wallet.
6. The problems need clear explanations. Never did I hear the public being informed that the 8th-12th graders are dismissed a minute early to get to/from the trailers. If that 1 minute happened just once a day, that is almost 3 hours of lost instructional time per year. No one explained that instructional time is also lost during tornado watches/warnings. No one took a picture of a crowded hallway at the high school. No one showed the class meeting in the atrium. There was no list of classes/opportunities that cannot be offered at the high school because we are out of room. Neosho is a VERY giving and generous community, but in order for generous people to help, they must see the needs.
7. Do you fully understand how much money the school asks our community for already?
ü Field trip money (lots of field trip money),ü money for required school planners,
ü school picture money two times a year (and you just try to tell your little one that you aren’t buying their cute picture!),
ü 3+ fundraisers a year plus a PTO Carnival with baskets to donate to and raffle tickets to buy/sell,
ü book fairs,
ü school dances/fun nights with concessions,
ü book orders,
ü Spirit Day tattoos/face painting,
ü sports fees,
ü Stuff the Bus donations,
ü school T-shirt money,
ü gifts for teachers,
ü classroom snacks (about 9 times per year per child..store bought and individually wrapped) plus store bought birthday cupcakes,
ü teacher appreciation carry-in meals, and
ü donations for Trike A Thons and Pennies for Patients and on and on….
It is no wonder voters may be experiencing “compassion fatigue”. It is time to say “Thank you” and limit the requests. One school picture is enough. One fundraiser is enough (and fundraiser assemblies are a BIG waste instructional time). I personally would pay money to not have my kids involved in fundraising! Ten dollars a year for field trips (including Summer school) is enough. Book orders and book fairs are often a financial burden, and the carnival trinkets are a choke hazard and in the trash in a week. My kids have seen more movies in theaters with the school than with our family. Who spends cash this way? In today’s economy, less is more.
Steps in the right direction include the following:
Ø Align the schools needs with the community’s values.
Ø Work on engaging in a rapport and cooperation with all citizens by providing multiple opportunities to ask questions of the public and to share concerns with the public in a variety of settings.
Ø Create a system for “knowledge management” in which mistakes and misunderstandings of the past are imparted to new staff so consistent answers can be given as these issues are revisited.
Ø Take the narrow focus off the building/overcrowding temporarily. Broaden the lens and show people the other challenges. I, for one, am alarmed at the small percentage of students taking advanced and honors’ classes and the stagnant average of our ACT scores. If the district can show the public their problems, the creative solutions, and the opportunities to help be a part of the solutions, especially in non-monetary ways, then people will feel more a part of the school. This will show the voters that money is not the only solution that the R-V uses to solve our community’s challenges.
Ø Don’t put this back on the ballot for at least a year and consider an April 2016 election. (April is a great time for people to give money at the ballot box as some have just gotten a tax return. In fact even fixed income families often get the Property Tax/Circuit Breakers credit return right before the April election so they will have just had a reminder that the increase will likely not affect their overall budget.)
Ø Get a focus group of about 18-20 people and look hard for folks who openly say that they voted no to serve on the committee. During the wait time for it to be on the ballot again, get a specific plan and get feedback from the focus group before releasing it to the public. Adjust the plan accordingly and then “wow” people with the value of their dollar. Tell them exactly what they are getting and show them that it is the right building in the right place, with the right features and at the right price.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need any clarifications. I apologize for the length of the letter, but I should have drafted it sooner...five years sooner.