Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Pancakes, then off the cliff

E. Boyer

Something pleasant, to start…Sunday morning is often dad-duty in Piedmont. I seldom venture much beyond Piedmont on Sundays, therefore my Sunday observations are limited to these 10.5 square miles.  If you haven’t experienced an early Piedmont Sunday morning on foot, I must caution that you’re “pleasant experience account” is at a deficit.  Piedmont, in the early hours before all the gears start churning is hard to beat.  It’s a lovely calm of green and quiet and in these pre-sunshine hours, the charming, old houses, tended lawns and thoughtful little parks are beautifully softened with an air-brushing of sorts, a magical gauzy filter that the best photo app could never recreate. 

It’s in these wee Sunday hours that dads and kids are soft-shoeing around the grass and play structures and sandy pits. Some sit silently enjoying their coffee, observing as their toddlers explore the curiosities that abound, allowing them to teeter and tumble, dig, poke, prod and occasionally eat things that aren’t necessarily food.  Others take the opportunity to impart wisdom on how best to stack the twigs or mold the sand; once the goopy blob resembles something, they give their final assessment with cheerful enthusiasm, “You made a pancake!  That’s very impressive!”  I can’t help but wonder if the toddler thought it looked more like Howard, the family dog.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s dads and kids spending a glorious morning in the park...love and quality-time wrapped into one.  It’s this softer side of Piedmont that is so completely enchanting. 

Once the gears in our town do start to churn and the day-to-day starts rolling it can be harder to spot those tender moments….

Just up the hill from the charming father-child scene there’s the still-contentious lawn over which, it’s rumored, never-seen Methusela’esque creatures stand watch in the event that a dog cavorts about and mucks it up, rendering the lawn useless; for what, I don’t know. I would have thought that cavorting dogs were the very purpose of such a grassy patch. Turns out, you can get a hefty ticket for that. Such a silly thing.

From there it veers off the cliff.  Topics that used to seem paramount are now trivial side notes; the abysmally sub-standard community pool, a so-called athletic director hired under questionable circumstances, cell towers, the lack of transparency within the PUSD, playfields, acts of hate and racism in our schools.  Those have all been put on the back burner these past few months when a controversial Mayor, Facebook and un-fit teachers took center stage.

There was a time when I foolishly thought social media might be a handy tool for recipe exchanges and seeing photos of friends and family in distant corners. Focus your audio, folks: if you plan on dipping your toe in the political pool on Facebook, gird yourself sufficiently; it’s not for the tender hearted. 

You see, our President is off his kadoova, which has emboldened some to spout their inner-most ugly thoughts in the form of posts, which in turn has all the “friends” on Facebook bickering like wild cats.  Honestly, the fur was flying.  It goes something like this: you snuggle-up on your couch in your stretchy weekend pants with a bowl of Kettle Chips, a glass of wine and laptop at the ready. Then, you log onto Facebook and as if by witchcraft you suddenly feel cloaked in anonymity and
un-touchability.  You see a post that gets in your craw and before you know it you’re typing a blue streak; teeth grinding, expletives flying, jaw clenching and then it happens…you hit the button that lets the whole world know your darkest stretchy-pants-wine-and-kettle chip-induced thoughts.  And just like that you go from being a regular old city council member and Mayor to an absolute oddity and outcast. Poof!

Sadly, there’s another troubling topic on Piedmont’s list of current events: in the coming weeks we’ll hear a lot of about the difference between a crime and something that is merely inappropriate.  We’ll hear that men have been objectifying women and girls since the beginning of time.  We’ll hear that the only reason this is coming about is because of the Harvey Weinstein accusers. Don’t be fooled or intimidated, folks.  The PUSD and it’s band of unconditional supporters will defend the institution like Davey Crockett at the Alamo.  It’s a blindness that I truly cannot comprehend.  Administrative leave? God sakes, is Mr. Booker so far gone that he can’t see even the most obvious wrongdoing?  When will this public servant rise to the position and stop putting on a show at the expense of our children?  Why we would ever tolerate such abhorrent behavior from someone charged with educating our children is beyond me.  I often wonder why, in a situation like this we don’t storm the walls and demand that a teacher such as the one on this case be immediately removed.  How I long for a bit of activism!  Achieve the honorable?  My goodness, Mr. Booker, we aren’t even coming close.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Packaged

E. Boyer

The flags of the world, plants of the Canary Islands and thousands of bits and pieces about the continents. Those were things I learned from out-of-date copies of National Geographic that were buried in a giant pile high along the walls of my uncle Gil’s tool shed along with innumerable copies of The Saturday Evening Post, Life and the somewhat saucy for that time, Men’s Adventure. My ability to chime in on any Gilbert and Sullivan sing-along can be traced to the tip-top radio show, Information Please. Politics 1A came to me via a crackly radio broadcast and the haze of my father’s cigarette smoke at our little breakfast table. I don’t imagine this would be considered the “educationally appropriate comfortable and secure learning environment” that Mr. Booker envisions for the facilities upgrade – but a learning environment it was. I offer this only to suggest the subjectivity of the matter. 

 Yes, it’s predictable that talk of a $65 million bond in this small town with it’s small school enrollment will get the old gal to the typewriter, but not for the reasons you might imagine. I actually think a new facility is a good idea. Familiar eyes often fail to see the deterioration of a thing, which explains the dated wallpaper in so many of our bathrooms. I like the change-the-carpet-every-five-years-whether-it-needs-it-or-not motto. A drab and dreary space is just that. But with regard to the schools, there are two things going on that bother me. Neither is about the bond, itself, but about the predictable presentation and the thing that’s missing. 

 The presentation 
 Why must we always be sold a bill of goods? Why not simply say that we want something new rather than package-up our desire as an urgent need? “A positive school climate in which kids can learn?” “Educationally appropriate learning environment?” For heaven’s sake, this is such meaningless speech. Fluffy filler in a term paper written an hour before the deadline. What does this gibberish even mean? We have a tendency to sound the alarm when we decide we want something new. I haven’t noticed the desperately needed wheelchair accessible issues being addressed at the Alan Harvey Theater. Anyone remember that? After all the shameful exploitive tactics for funding I would have thought, at the very least, a handicap ramp would have been installed by now. Seems the egos of those in charge of the failed bond measure trumped the needs of those in wheelchairs. I imagine this bond will be “packaged” in much the same way. Perhaps this time a child suffering from heat exhaustion in a classroom will be depicted on lawn signs. 

Would I approve a bond for $65 million? Absolutely. Will I approve it without a definitive plan by a professional with a track record of success and with assurances for time and budget, instead leaving the allocation of funds at the discretion of what a few school officials deem an “educationally appropriate learning environment?” Absolutely not.

Last month, Swiss engineers finished the 35.4-mile Gotthard Railway Tunnel, which bores clear through the Alps. That’s high-speed rail running deep beneath the Alps, folks… Germany to Italy in 20 minutes. It took 17 years and was completed on time and on budget. On time and on budget. I’m no engineer, but I think this means they had a plan. Three of our schools were renovated within this last decade, but (oops!) the climate control was never addressed. Air conditioning units were discussed, but they were thought esthetically unappealing and not in the budget. Good Lord. Before this proposed bond goes on the ballot, shouldn’t we have a real plan as opposed to a flippity-jib of flowery adjectives? An educationally appropriate learning environment to some could mean uncle Gil’s tool shed and a brand new air-conditioned building to others. I’m just not convinced that Mr. Booker’s definition of an “educationally appropriate learning environment,” whatever that is, constitutes a master plan. Call me fussy, but I need a little more to make an informed decision.

One thing I do know is that all public works projects require an engineering, construction and architect’s estimate and a timeline for completion, regardless of the number of job phases, none of which we have for this project. This makes me think that $65 million has little to do with a specific construction plan and more to do with the fact that it represents 100% of the district’s bond capacity. Which, in turn, makes me feel like the current plan is “Hey, the money is there, let’s grab it and figure the rest out later.” Not exactly the transparency our community deserves. 

 The thing that’s missing 
 But here’s the rub. Why in heaven’s name are we’re talking about improving the physical space when we’re cutting programs? Is it just me or does this seem like remodeling the kitchen when we can’t afford to buy food? Do we want a sparkling new facility? Yes, who wouldn’t? But why aren’t we giving any attention to a bond that would enhance education. That’s the only reason we send our children to school. I’m told it’s because there’s no real way to sell education. Built-in tutoring and enrichment programs can’t really be packaged in a way that gets people excited about writing checks. According to one source, permanent walls and air conditioning sell, but education...not so much. The thinking is that there just isn’t a way to take a plan for tutoring and other academic enhancements, package them up in a tidy bond and present it to the public. Too vague and non-tangible. I disagree. There are plenty of educators and students who I believe could plan it, package it, present it and put it into action. Students are struggling under the stress of keeping up academically. We all know it, but we don’t like to talk about it because it isn’t wonderful. If we have the wherewithal to raise $65 million dollars for our schools, shouldn’t a big portion of it be put toward education? For the life of me, I’ll never understand this. But then, what do I know? I learned world history in a tool shed.

Piedmont being Piedmont, I’m sure we’ll soon have new facilities and students will continue to muddle through homework on the their own during the wee hours. And so, as I surrender to this existing state of affairs, I offer a suggestion. While we’re working on a plan that might at least take HVAC into consideration, this time around, how ‘bout a few aesthetically unappealing air-conditioning units and a meeting...maybe with the Swiss.