08/26/07 — Talk begets talk: Discussions about schools needs to transform into action

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Talk begets talk: Discussions about schools needs to transform into action

Talk, talk, talk.

More talk, talk, talk.

Demand more information.

Get it, then talk, talk, talk again.

Complain about compliance, hurl a few criticisms, imply a lack of cooperation — or that some simply don’t care — and then stop talking — at least publicly.

Rekindle cooperation and then start more talking.

Get close to having to make a decision and then it is time to talk, talk, talk again.

So far, every bit of a chance to actually reach a consensus on what is next for Wayne County schools has been met by more talk and no action.

And this week, the county’s leaders have launched not a series of possible solutions to the school funding questions with options for residents to consider; not their own ranking of the needs in schools; or a brass tacks analysis of what goals they have for improving facilities and programs — but another set of meetings.

Contrary to what the commissioners seem to believe, no one really expects any of them to come up with the definitive answer to creating the best school district at the lowest possible cost.

No one really expects a tablet to arrive on high with the answers and a blueprint for getting there.

What is necessary is for someone — anyone — to propose something that resembles a starting point for discussion.

Here’s an example: “It would take more than $100 million to fix everything in the schools. We cannot afford that. However, we could do 50 percent of the work this year at a cost of (fill in the blank) with an option to do the rest in X years. That would also include $1 million in money for better teachers and better programs over the next five years. To support that measure would cost the average homeowner X dollars. Would you support such a move?”

No one is asking for a commitment today to a multi-million dollar fixup plan for the county schools. No one is even asking for a 100 percent answer to what bond issue would be necessary.

What voters and homeowners want to see is that someone is coming up with something more than “We can’t afford that.”

The public meetings are a wonderful chance for the commission to hear what their constituents think about a variety of issues. But the last one is scheduled for the end of September.

When does that mean a bond issue could be put on a ballot? Will the commission commit to anything before next spring — and the beginning of yet another budget discussion? At this rate, even that looks sketchy.

If improving Wayne County’s economic viability is really top priority, getting the best possible education system in place is critical. It is a goal that will not happen immediately, but it cannot happen at all if all parties involved are not committed to the exercise.

The recent discussions that ended in both the county schools and the commission leadership agreeing that more money should be spent on programs and facilities were encouraging — a sign that everyone seemed to be on the same page and ready to move toward solutions and away from more ... talking.

Let’s hope the next round of meetings is not a step back to a new game of perpetual Ring Around the Rosie with no end in sight — because even a “process” needs a solid proposal to get started on the road to becoming a plan.

Published in Editorials on August 26, 2007 12:06 AM