ACHTUNG: The following is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.
“…Go to the people. Ask the hands that serve the machines of America. Ask these thousands of folks, who wouldn’t say no to yesterday, or yes instead of knowing it all.” — The Firesign Theatre, 1969, “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not anywhere at All.”
And go to the people Wayland school officials have tried to do in two very poorly attended public forums, or listening sessions, about the recently defeated bond proposal. The first session last week at the Fine Arts Center lured 20 people, many of them school board members and school officials. The second brought out only three.
All of them were supporters of the proposed bond in the Aug. 2 election. Though their presence was appreciated, they’re not the people school officials want to come to the forums.
Supt. Tim Reeves and Assistant Supt. for Finances and Operations Patricia Velie have tried to ask voters why they turned down the bond issue.
The serious problem that is surfacing is that the naysayers aren’t disclosing who they are, so school officials don’t really have a good handle on the reasons for the ballot loss Aug. 2 by 225 votes.
I submit that the usefulness of putting together listening sessions or public forums has gone the way of the milkman, the gas station attendant, cassette tape players, floppy disks. Public forums just don’t generate public input any more, particularly the kind needed to gain the desired information.
The reasons probably are severalfold:
• Some folks don’t want to go to a public meeting where somebody wants to change their minds.
• Some think it a waste of time to defend publicly their decision to vote against what they believe to be a tax increase.
• A solid minority of people who live in Leighton Township send their kids to Moline Christian and South Christian and quietly have no interest in improving Wayland schools.
• Some older citizens somehow believe that because they don’t have children in schools any more, they shouldn’t have to support taxes for improvements.
• Some citizens moved to the Wayland district to get away from the higher taxes of the cities and suburbs.
• Some folks believe building a new swimming pool is just a frill, even though Velie has made it clear the pool would be available to the entire community for leisure activity, swim lessons and healthy ways to spend free time.
• Too many people believed the bond was for just a new pool, though Velie often and clearly insisted that construction of an aquatic center would set in motion other repair and renovation projects at the high school for industrial arts, band, choir and other music programs and the request included projects at the middle school and all the elementaries.
So administrators and school board members have gone back to the drawing board to try to learn how they can persuade the public that this series of projects is good for the district, and most importantly, for the kids.
It’s becoming painfully clear that public forums and listening sessions aren’t going to feed the bulldog. They are relics of the past. New avenues of communication are sorely needed.
One of the few attendees at Leighton Township suggested community Facebook sessions in which local citizens can get into the action and provide input. Velie said there is fund-raising going on now to fund direct mail materials to everyone living in the district.
Reeves and Velie have said they would find most welcome any suggestions about how to reach the naysaying public in a non-threatening way, in a way that results in information.
At any rate, the task of learning what went wrong with the last proposal appears to be a daunting one, a task that needs to be handled adequately well before the next bond proposal is set before the electorate next spring.