Wednesday, March 12, 2008

1,670 Naysayers

Although it was important to show our support, the last minute work of sign-wavers probably didn't make much difference since the Capital Projects Levy passed by a 68.98% margin.  Even without Simple Majority, the measure breezed through.

Now that it's over and there's no risk of me jinxing the vote, I have a question about why we asked for so little.  The Good People of Mercer Island say yes -- by wide margins -- to anything related to public schools, so why aren't we doing more?  It feels good to have a measure pass by such a huge amount, but in the long run I worry that school supporters will grow lazy in two ways:

  • The Yes Campaign people won't work as hard next time. We're busy with other things, so why bother with phone-a-thons or letters to the editor or sign-waving in the cold when it probably won't matter either way.

and far worse of course

  • We'll be more flippant with how we propose and spend money.  If any tax will pass no matter what, why be meticulous with how the money is spent?  Forget repainting the school or buying new networking equipment.  How about Aeron chairs for all the teachers?

Consider the following mathematical facts about this year's levy results.   One in four registered voters went out of their way to vote yes, either in person or through mail-in ballot, while only 10% -- a mere 1,670 people -- came out against it.

This was a too-easy election, driven I think a little too much by fear of those 1,670 naysayers -- who probably would have voted against anything that had been on the ballot.  Rather than focus on them, I wish we could do something bigger, bolder, more ambitious; something that would stir up the juices of the 10,000 people who didn't vote at all. That might probably would mean more money (we're only 7% tax rate vs 9% in Seattle for example), but not necessarily.  What if we proposed something Big, like an idea for how schools in the future should be run.  Something international, maybe, or combining technology with distance learning.  Throw a bunch of competition into it, with big rewards for those who have the best results.

Okay, okay, I'm just mindlessly kicking out ideas here, but you get the point.  When we let schools, or school funding, run themselves, we are no longer pushing ourselves and that's when we start to fall behind.

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