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School funding is a community decision

On February 24 voters went to the polls to determine the future of the students attending schools in the Lake Pend Oreille School District. From Clark Fork to Southside, and all places in between, debate surfaced over the merits of the $10,950,000 proposal crafted by a Board of Trustees that was forced to balance on a tightrope of student needs and the current economic reality. It was a difficult choice for many in our community.

The difficulty of the choice was compounded by expected reduced state funding for public education, unclear funding patterns from the federal stimulus package, and ultimately, the negative effects that might occur should the levy fail.

As your Superintendent I was heartened by parts of the debate that focused attention on the shortcomings of the state funding mechanism. To many it is clear the state funding formula is dramatically out of step with the demands of the public school system. Parents throughout the district expressed their frustration to me about public school systems that appear to be lacking resources to meet educational demands without asking local taxpayers for help. At one point in a discussion at Clark Fork High School I was rescued from a difficult moment when a brave gentleman stood up in the gym and said, “The problem isn’t the district. The problem is state funding.”

I am not one to point fingers at our state leaders. I believe they have a difficult mission; sorting our budgetary needs from equally demanding groups cannot be an easy process. I simply know that Idaho funding levels for education are below the national average and that our children should have the same access to resources as other children across our country.  Receiving a quality education should not be an accident of birthplace, and in response, our staff is making sure that our community’s children receive their best effort every day. The successful levy will make this challenge and joy more doable.

There is something to be learned in every election or campaign. Below are six ideas that you reinforced:

Passion for Public Education—I have been an educator for 34 years. I felt more support for public education from a group of individuals than any I have witnessed. I am grateful for your never ending support and assistance.

Passion Regarding Public Education—I have also learned there is an equally passionate group who believe public education has shortchanged their children, themselves, or the community. They believe the system doesn’t work well and they are not anxious to support its continuation.

Passion Regarding Taxes—Few people desire increased taxes. However, there are some in the community who feel they should not have to pay any more for our schools. “We paid our taxes when our kids were in school, now it is someone else’s turn,” is a common response I heard. Unfortunately, this notion runs contrary to a notion I also heard many times about our responsibility as a community member. If education really is the key to our nation’s future what should we do about transforming our current practices?

Misinformation is Prevalent—There was a tremendous amount of misinformation in our community. Some would argue it came from both viewpoints. From my perspective, I would like suggestions on how we can more effectively communicate with our public. However, I also believe those who vocally oppose initiatives should actively seek information either by telephoning the source of the information or by attending meetings. The Board of Trustees held nine public meetings prior to settling on a proposal. The meetings were advertised on the district’s website and in local newspapers. Still, there were very few in attendance. If you have a better idea regarding communication, please share it with us. We want citizens to have all of the information they need to make an informed choice.

Blogs Have Potential—Blogs could certainly prove helpful in spreading accurate information.  I was disappointed in some of the content. As a public official I am comfortable with people questioning my decision-making or ideas. That is an expected part of my job. However, reading how other people were attacked for sharing an idea left me thinking our community has some work to do in terms of civility. A good start would be asking people to be courageous enough to share their names as well as their ideas. Anonymity allows people to engage in a base form of communication that is divisive and ultimately hurts all of us.

Improvement is Necessary—Although I am extremely proud of our school system, I know improvements can be made. We will continue to focus on making our district the most effective in the state in terms of student achievement and financial accountability. I urge you to share your ideas with us. However, please understand that your idea may not be the “magic bullet” you perceive it to be.

Thank You—Finally, thank you to everyone who participated in the vote. Our democracy depends upon an informed and active electorate. We will do our very best to uphold your confidence.

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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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