An open letter to the Stillwater School Board regarding the BOLD Proposal

Hello. My name is Steve Carr.

Personally, I have no “skin in the game” as my children are grown and doing well, due in part to the excellent education they received from Withrow Elementary School. As I have no knowledge of Oak Park Elementary School, I will confine my comments to Withrow & Marine although I imagine that the issues are similar regarding Oak Park.

As you move down the path toward announcing your decision regarding the closure of the three elementary schools, please consider the following:

In the 35 years that I have lived in Withrow, it has always been obvious that District 834 has considered the Withrow & Marine elementary schools to be more of an unwanted liability than an asset. These schools have always been chronically underfunded and understaffed yet they produce superior results due to the dedication of their respective staffs and the unflagging direct financial and hands-on volunteer support from their surrounding communities.

The bottom line is that these schools succeed. They have been and still are a closely knit partnership of the community and the schools. That success has been the result of necessity. Without the infusion from the community of thousands of off-budget dollars and thousands of hours of unpaid volunteer parental assistance, these schools would have failed.

These are our schools. We bought & paid for them. We intend to keep them.

I believe that you may be misinterpreting the amount of anger and resentment that the BOLD “Proposal” has generated in the current generation of parents adversely affected by this plan. They may be somewhat idealistic and naïve, but they all made the investment to bring their families to this area for all of the same reasons that we did years ago, and perhaps the biggest factor was and still is the schools.

Let me put it this way – When you move to an area like this, you don’t have a lot of neighbors. You don’t get to know a lot of people quickly like you do in a suburban neighborhood. However, when your children reach school age, that all changes and you quickly realize that the school is actually the societal hub that knits the community together. Thus, its value is far in excess of what you can quantify on a spread sheet or as a line- item budget entry. These schools and the people who interact with them are not pieces to be arbitrarily moved about on Ms. Pontrelli’s game board.

Over the years that we have lived here, I can’t think of a single instance when this exceedingly generous population hasn’t granted The District everything financially that they asked for. This generosity has been truly amazing, especially considering how little of it was directed back into “the backwaters” of The District.

Despite that generosity, it appears that The District is prepared to rip the heart out of these communities over a couple million bucks. The last referendum was pitched to the public on the basis of “Give us more money and we won’t have to close any schools”. That certainly didn’t hold up for long. I’d like to point out that a referendum isn’t the same as a political campaign. Unfortunately, we have grown to expect politicians to lie to us, however, when you come asking for money based on specific parameters and outcomes, we view it more along the lines of a contractual obligation. In the private sector, your plan would be viewed as a Breach of Contract and subject to litigation.

Where did the money go? Seems pretty straight forward to me. Either The District lied and never had any intention of keeping these schools open, or the funds have been, or are going to be diverted for other purposes. Either way, it’s still an egregious violation of the public trust. If The District used funds for other than what was authorized by The School Board, would that not be considered  Misappropriation of Public Funds? If so, wouldn’t the same be true if The School Board used funds for other than what was authorized by The Voters? Legally, perhaps not but many things that are technically legal are not always prudent things to do.

I didn’t get off the turnip truck yesterday. I don’t for one moment believe that the outcome of this “proposal” has ever been in doubt. Let’s not parse words here – I’ll call it The Plan instead, since use of the word proposal would indicate the possibility of rejection or change. The Plan was conceived and created without public input. If The District wanted public input, they would have solicited it prior to completing The Plan. Public meetings at this point are mere window dressing – A legally required step before The Plan can proceed. There is no “Plan B”. There never is. The Plan was carefully crafted, analyzed, lobbied, and then finally, intentionally revealed prior to the holidays with an intentionally compressed announcement to proposal to approval schedule, optimized to minimize public reaction and feedback.

This all seems pretty arrogant to me. An organization that periodically comes groveling for public funding which then ignores its commitments to the people, going to great lengths to obfuscate the process and preventing any meaningful input or feedback. I can’t imagine how it could get any worse. Am I missing something? I don’t think so. This is the same tired strategy and tactics that The District has successfully used for decades. It worked in the past and unfortunately, it looks like it may work this time too.

However, this time may be different. This time, all of those adversely affected parents are part of the wonderful web of social networking. They are a “Virtual Army” of public opinion. As such, I have no choice but to encourage them all to hold The School Board and The District accountable for their decisions and actions. I urge them to mount a campaign to ensure that any School Board member who votes for the BOLD Plan will join the ranks of the unemployed come next election. I urge them to investigate legal action against the deceptive and manipulative practices of The District. I urge them to examine and continuously monitor The District’s financial statements, budget and CAFRs to find out where the money is going. And if these schools are closed, I urge them to campaign to defund The District by voting NO at the next referendum.

I believe that we are entering a new era of public scrutiny and accountability of the actions of Public Servants.

If not, God help us all, for we are doomed.


Stephen D. Carr