21 May 2008: Cliche or not, it does take a village to raise a child

Cliche or not, it does take a village to raise a child

Despite my understanding that Clear Creek is an economically diverse community, I was blown away by the fact that, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, Clear Creek is the second wealthiest county per capita in the state, right behind Pitkin County (Aspen). It seems then what many might consider to be true, that Clear Creek is an economically depressed area, is apparently urban or, in this case, mountain legend.

That fact does have import for the varied aspects of our county such as roads, but it is especially significant for our schools that are facing severe economic challenges.

One function of American public schools is to serve as democratizing agents. Race, ethnicity, primary language, religious preference, and wealth are theoretically non-factors when it comes to educating our youth. When the Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in Brown v. Topeka, it struck a blow against racial disparity. Where our courts, though, have feared to tread since is in addressing economic disparity, which serves as a backdoor to accomplish what was deemed unconstitutional in Brown.

Colorado school finance laws are regressive and punitive in nature. Under the guise of encouraging competition as a prod for improvement, the open enrollment law allows parents to send their children to another district provided there is room, which there always is. The problem is that when parents make that choice, they also cause the state-support dollars to be sent as well.

On the surface, that seems to make sense since the preferred district now must provide all the services needed to educate the incoming student. But the flaw is that the new district is hardly impacted by accepting a new student into a classroom with vacant seats. It’s not as if the teacher is awarded a stipend for each new student. That’s the reason districts eagerly solicit and accept students from their neighbors—they benefit from it in the pursuit of scarce dollars..

Sending the state dollars with the student has real consequences for the district the child has abandoned. By depriving a district of critical state funds, it severely damages it in ways that are counter-productive and even destructive to its ability to improve.

Where the rubber meets the road, hence, lies where it does have immediate impact: parental choice. My mother sent her kids to the parochial school. That was her choice, but in so doing, she also accepted the reality she had to pay for that choice while still paying her taxes to fund the public school. Further, in so doing her kids were not privileged to participate in our local public schools activities by simply paying a fee.

It is impossible to calculate the real cost of participation in school activities, for it is far more than the coach’s salary and other up front costs: The only reason the Clear Creek Golddiggers play, for example, is that Clear Creek High School exists in the first place, and if every parent in Clear Creek opted to home-school or to send their kids to a private school or to another district, we could tear down the goal posts and level the building.

The vast majority of parents who make choices than to send their children other than to their local public school do so with the best interests of their children in mind, which is their right. Factors such as distance and the requisite bus trip it takes to get their kids to the middle school, one of those quirks of mountain living, is one of those legitimate concerns. However, in making that choice it results in depriving the district of its share of state funding, and it makes it even more difficult for the district to rectify such challenges.

The Clear Creek School District’s ultimate goal, according to the Strategic Plan adopted by the Board of Education, is to take our schools to the highest level of achievement, or as BOE member Bob Judge likes to put it, “to infinity and beyond.”

Even to this side of infinity, the road to excellence will be arduous and will require the support of the collective Clear Creek community. Within our community, as the feds note, resources abound. The question before us is whether we have the will to do right by our schools—our kids—by tapping into all of those resources.

The challenges we face relate not only to the students, but also to ourselves and our country, for our youth are the future, the ones that will take care of us in our geriatric stage and the ones entrusted with preserving our republic.

Bob also notes, “We need to strongly support our schools so our schools can strongly support our kids.” That means everyone—taxpayers with school-age kids and those who don’t—as we’re all in this together. In that we are a community, the schools and kids are ours. Trite as it may sound, it does take a village.

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