Tuesday, June 21, 2016


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 Those were things I learned from out-of-date copies of National Geographic that were buried in a giant pile high along the walls of my uncle Gil’s tool shed along with innumerable copies of The Saturday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.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

First, Fourth, Second

Oh, we’ve got trouble. Right here in River City. That’s trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and stands for pretty funny how you go from 4th to 2nd unbeknownst to the judges. This is a small town, folks. When stories go ‘round about backroom shenanigans at the 50th annual Leonard J. Waxdeck Bird Calling contest, not only will the birds returneth again to their nest, but they’ll ruffle a few feathers when they get there! Angry Birds will suddenly take on a whole new meaning! In other words, some among us may take such things seriously. Judging by the 200+ in attendance at the Champagne and Strawberry Party, honoring Mr. Waxdeck and the 50th Anniversary of the contest, there are quite a few who do, indeed take the contest and it’s reputation seriously. Slightly off topic, I must take a moment to say that, were Mr. Waxdeck alive, he would have been humbled by such a special event, held at the home of Ron and Gloria Gruber on Saturday, the night after the contest itself. It was the sort of party that, sadly, has become a scarcity. A charming, more genteel side of Piedmont that is now often drowned-out by an abundance of ill-mannered blow-hards. This was a party of Piedmont’s quiet and confident, pleasant and at ease. Think of it as Piedmont’s true power-players, but the ones with manners. If you missed it, you missed Piedmont at it’s finest. An afternoon to savor. Back to the feather-ruffling… As far as I can tell, the group of contestants who won second place, were scratched at the last minute and the fourth place group was somehow bumped-up to the second place spot. How do you bump-up fourth and disregard third altogether? Shouldn’t third have been bumped to second? More importantly, why was second scratched in the first place? I imagine there’s a good explanation, but I hereby give fair warning that some are crying “Cock-a-doodle-dooty!” You see, when you tinker with the reputation of the 50-year tradition that put Piedmont on the map nationally, you also tinker with the sensibilities of those who put that tradition in place. If home-cooking is suspected in the bird calling contest, it will render it nothing more than a sham. That’s tinkering, with a capital T! A bird is known by his feathers, Mr. Brown. Unless you want to be known as the yellow-bellied dodo who hurled the bird calling contest into extinction, you just might wanna clear things up for us.
Fifty years of tradition translates to a lot of old birds and old birds are hard to pluck. Cuckaw!! Cuckaw!!