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From The Vaults

Should Turning Ohio BLUE Be Our Objective?

I’m going to a meeting this evening of a group called Blue Ohio. Its website says that the mission of the group is to: “Motivate a strong majority of Ohioans to vote for Democratic candidates in local, state, and national elections.” The group is working on a plan that includes mailing out flyers, hosting candidate forums and organizing events for candidates.

I respect the efforts of Blue Ohio members to make a positive impact in politics and I want to be supportive of their efforts. But, to achieve progressive goals, I’m coming to the conclusion that a nonpartisan approach has a greater chance for success than a partisan one. People are sick to death of partisanship — when polled, 43% of voters identify as nonpartisan. A candidate forum sponsored by a group dedicated to electing Democrats would be a turn-off for a lot of voters. Progressives need a venue to positively interact with Independents.

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Turning Ohio Blue sounds good, but if Democrats command 51% of the vote in Ohio, is Ohio Blue? If Democrats win 60%, is Ohio Blue? The fact is, turning Ohio Blue will never be possible. It will always have lots of red. We need to move away from a “winner-take-all” politics based on division and wedge issues and move towards a politics focused on unity and consensus.

Rather than focusing on achieving partisan victories, I’m concluding that progressives should focus on making our system of representative democracy work as it should. We need to have confidence that a government of the people would be a progressive government. Moving towards empowering a nonpartisan government of the people would be revolutionary. It would be fiercely resisted by the two party monopoly that is enriched and empowered in the current system. It would be resisted by every person and every organization that benefits from the partisan division of the political status quo.

Rather than pumping up a system built on partisanship and division, progressives should find a way to advance a system built on nonpartisanship and community. That sounds hopelessly idealistic, I know — words, words, words. But suppose a group took such idealistic goals seriously and worked together to move from words to deeds. I’m wondering what an organization called “Nonpartisan Ohio” might look like, how it would define its mission, its goals.

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Because Technology Will Bring Hard Changes To Our Economy, Civics Education Will Become More Important Than STEM 

Technology / science has given humans power that at one time would have seemed God-like. Imagine how the practices and productivity of modern farming would seem to our ancestors. This capacity for wealth creation is growing exponentially. A factory one day will have zero human workers, yet produce goods of enormous value.

Humanity, at this present time, has the capacity to produce sufficient wealth to supply plenty of quality food, quality shelter, quality health-care to every human in the world. We are failing to use that capacity and the capacity to produce wealth is rapidly increasing. The reality of enormous unused economic potential, in the face of widespread human deprivation, eventually will be huge issue.

In America, there is a huge wealth gap — between potential wealth creation and actual wealth creation — and this gap is become ever greater and greater over time. What possibly could be the objection to the production of ample wealth — if, and when, the production of that wealth has little practical cost? The advance of technology will force debate concerning these two questions:

  1. What are the public policies that have the best chance of activating the potential of the American economy to produce wealth?
  2. What are the public policies that can best provide a way for all Americans to gain wealth sufficient for a secure and prosperous future?

Making substantial changes to public policies is very difficult in our constitutional democracy. But without substantial change, our system is headed for a crash. Our big problem is that there is not sufficient citizen capacity — not enough citizens who are engaged and knowledgeable — to make our constitutional democracy work as it should. Our nation will soon be called upon to make some very hard choices and, as it is now, our democracy lacks the capacity to successfully respond. We are failing to produce community and governmental leaders who have the character, vision and creativity that is needed.

Our expensive system of public education is failing to develop the capacity of youth for effective citizenship. To meet the challenges to society caused by the explosion of technology, our constitutional democracy will need to be empowered by a vitality that is now nonexistent. The urgent need for thoughtful and engaged citizens inevitably will become more and more obvious.

The irony of the rise of technology / science that is giving humanity God-like power is that rather than becoming more important, STEM education will become less important. Civics education — the preparation of youth for active and effective citizenship — will replace STEM as the focus of public education. We have to hope this change of focus doesn’t happen too late.

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Ted Strickland Should Make Focus Of Campaign His Fight To Repair And Strengthen Our Constitutional Democracy

I’m a Ted Strickland fan. We are both graduates of the Asbury College. What follows is part of a letter that I recently sent to his campaign. (Below the letter is a record of my history of urging candidates to make their campaigns all about democracy.)

Ted:

The theme of your campaign is that as senator you will “fight for working people.” The problem is, the plight of working people fails to generate the fear / anger needed to motivate a lot of voters. You should consider focusing on a bigger, more comprehensive fear / anger.

We can learn a lot from Trump supporters. They seem very angry and, mostly, they are angry that the system is rigged. This anger is becoming pervasive within the citizenry — not just Trumpets. You should tap into this anger and acknowledge that yes, the system is rigged and that you have a plan how as senator you could have a big impact on making the system work better.

Trump supporters like the fact that Trump is a bully. He gets big cheers when he makes his bullying boast: “And Mexico is going to pay for it.” His bully POV is revealed in his response to what he would do if the military refused an illegal order:  “Oh they will. Believe me. They won’t refuse.”

Your opportunity is to use the Trump phenomena to discuss how fragile our constitutional democracy is and how we are in danger of losing it. You should address the fear and anger within the citizenry — that Trump supporters point to — and show that the approach of a bully will only make things worse. We need strong leadership that empowers citizens to make our constitutional democracy work as it should. Consider a message something like this:

Our constitutional democracy is broken and unless it can soon be fixed, we are in great danger. Unless it is repaired, we are headed for disaster.

The advent of Donald Trump reminds us that history demonstrates that a dangerous power vacuum is created when democracies fail to solve problems. People eventually give up on democracy and turn to strongmen to whom they give dictatorial authority.

The future will swallow our system of constitutional democracy unless it is somehow made much stronger. Unless we can make a correction, Trump is delivering the message that we will soon pay a huge price for the gerrymandering, corruption, money-soaking of our system.

How can we make our constitutional democracy stronger? Ted Strickland has a plan.  Ted will offer strong legislation dealing with campaign finance, free TV time for candidates, gerrymandering, and civics education. He will organize his senate office to be a model of  transparency, a model of citizen communication / engagement. He will use his time and budget to help strengthen civics education and citizen engagement.

To back up this message, consider developing five new sections to your website. Each of these sections should show clearly how your views contrast with Portman’s. Put a big emphasis on the federal budget — the place where planning for the future will be won or lost. Portman’s embrace of the Ryan Budget provides a big opportunity — if we can get the public to start talking about the budget.

To generate interest, consider adding a discussion forum to each section — limited to participants who use their real names and who are verified to be registered Ohio voters.

  • “Understanding the Federal Budget and the Ryan Budget Proposal”
  • “What Ohioans Agree About”
  •  “The Challenges of the Future.”
  • “Legislation To Strengthen Our Constitutional Democracy”
  • “My Promise To Constituents”

I believe in you. I’m proud of you and I’m fervently hoping for your election to the U. S. Senate. I hope these suggestions are helpful.

Sincerely,  Mike Bock  —  graduate of Asbury College in 1969

My history of urging a message concerning democracy

May 7th, 2009: Advice For Gary Leitzell And David Esrati: Make The Campaign All About Democracy, System Structure

The campaign for City Council or Mayor should not focus on which candidate is in favor of a Dayton Sportsplex or how Dayton garbage collection can be improved. We need to get the citizenry to look at the big picture. My advice is to not focus on the smaller parts and, instead, take the perspective of the big picture. In the big picture, it is obvious that our system is failing. The answer to our problems is a system answer. I’ve frequently quoted W. Edwards Deming’s big insight that 85% of quality problems in a system stem from how the system is organized — not from the individuals in the system, nor individual components in the system. (See my article, “How Can The System Known As The United States Be Made To Work To Provide “Liberty and Justice For All?“)

 

May 5th, 2010: To Defeat Congressman Turner, Dr. MacNealy Must Emphasize His Commitment To Democracy

We must remember that it is the message that is of central importance, not money. …Here is the diagnosis I would encourage Dr. Mark to make:  Our democracy is in trouble. The failure of our economy, the failure to create jobs is a system failure.  Our system of democracy is failing and we need representatives dedicated to making democracy work.

 

October 8th, 2014: Advice To Rob Klepinger: Make Your Passion For Democracy The Message Of Your Campaign

Importantly, to gain credibility you must show a plan for leadership that, if elected, you will implement. Such a plan would show, for example, how the work of congress would be made transparent and understandable. It would show a strategy to encourage public discussion and public education about matters of civic importance. Such a plan of your intentions would make a vivid contrast to the record of Turner’s behavior. In summary, here is my unsolicited advice: In these last few weeks, make your message the fact that you are passionate about democracy.

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Using the NKS To Evaluate President Obama’s Ohio State Commencement Speech on Citizenship

A revealing scale by which to judge goals and speeches that lately I’ve been applying is what might be called the North Korean Standard (NKS)— as in:

  • Could this proposal for school reform be made by the Educational Ministry of North Korea?
  • Could this pronouncement about citizenship be made by a mayor of North Korea?

Yes, the leaders of North Korea want their students to be competitive in math and science and beat the pants off the kids in other nations — And Arne Duncan wants the same. The leaders of North Korea want their citizens to work together effectively and to give service and to show patriotism, and, to vote also — And President Obama wants the same.

At the recent graduation ceremony at Ohio State, President Obama focused most his speech on “citizenship.” His message seemed to be — go forth and practice good citizenship.

  • Obama said, “Choose a cause you care about in your life and fight like heck to make it happen. There is a word for this.  It’s citizenship.”
  • He said when disaster strikes — a hurricane, a bomb explosion — people pitch in and help, and that’s citizenship.

Obama said that citizenship involves responsibilities “to ourselves, to one another, and to future generations.” He quoted George W. Bush as saying, as a 2002 Ohio State Commencement, “America needs more than taxpayers, spectators, and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens.” He seemed to equate citizenship with patriotism and quoted Adlai Stevenson definition of patriotism – not as “short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

These pronouncements align with the NKS, but at first glance it might look like President Obama veered from the NKS when he spoke about democracy and self-government.

  • Your democracy does not function without your active participation
  • America is not about what can be done for us.  It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.
  • Only you can ultimately break that cycle.  Only you can make sure the democracy you inherit is as good as we know it can be.  But it requires your dedicated, informed, and engaged citizenship.  This citizenship is a harder, higher road to take.  But it leads to a better place.

But words by themselves mean little. The NKS is not about what terms are used, but about how terms are used to lull listeners into the comfort of group think. I always liked the quote of Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass:

 “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
    

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
    

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

 

President Obama did veer from the NKS offered a sense of humility: “I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  And I’m not going to offer some grand theory – not when it’s a beautiful day and you’ve got some celebrating to do.  I’m not going to get partisan, either, because that’s not what citizenship is about.”

But, then, it is all about rhetoric and meeting or exceeding the audience’s expectations and a little humility might be good for an American mix. It would be interesting to know how the Ohio State professors of rhetoric in the audience may have evaluated it on its message and its impact. On the North Korean Standard, it seemed to do pretty well. The speech is copied below:

 

President Obama Speech at Ohio State

Hello, Buckeyes!

Thank you Dr. Gee, the Board of Trustees, Congresswoman Beatty, Mayor Coleman, and all of you who make up The Ohio State University for allowing me the honor of joining you today.  Congratulations, Class of 2013!  And congratulations to all the parents, family, friends and faculty here in the Horseshoe – this is your day as well.  Just be careful with the turf.  I know Coach Meyer has big plans for fall.

Thank you, Dr. Gee, for that eloquent introduction, although I will not be singing today.  And yes, it is true that I did speak at that certain university up north a few years ago.  But, to be fair, you did let President Ford speak here once – and he played football for Michigan!

In my defense, this is my fifth visit to campus in the past year or so.  One time, I stopped at Sloopy’s to grab some lunch.  Many of you were still eating breakfast.  At 11:30.  On a Tuesday.  So I’ll offer my first piece of advice early: enjoy it while you still can.  Soon, you won’t get to do that.  And once you have kids, it gets even earlier.

Class of 2013, your path to this moment has wound you through years of breathtaking change.  You were born as freedom forced its way through a wall in Berlin, and tore down an Iron Curtain across Europe.  You were educated in an era of instant information that put the world’s accumulated knowledge at your fingertips.  And you came of age as terror touched our shores; an historic recession spread across the nation; and a new generation signed up to go to war.

You have been tested and tempered by events that your parents and I never imagined we’d see when we sat where you sit.  And yet, despite all this, or more likely because of it, yours has become a generation possessed with that most American of ideas – that people who love their country can change it.  For all the turmoil; for all the times you have been let down, or frustrated at the hand you’ve been dealt; what I have seen from your generation are perennial and quintessentially American values.  Altruism.  Empathy.  Tolerance.  Community.  And a deep sense of service that makes me optimistic for our future.

Consider that today, 50 ROTC cadets in your graduating class will become commissioned officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.  130 of your fellow graduates have already served – some in combat, some on multiple deployments.  Of the 98 veterans earning bachelor’s degrees today, 20 are graduating with honors.  And at least one kept serving his fellow veterans when he came home by starting up a campus organization called Vets4Vets.  As your Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of all of you.

Consider, too, that graduates of this university serve their country through the Peace Corps, and educate our children through established programs like Teach for America and startups like Blue Engine, often earning little pay for making the biggest impact.  Some of you have already launched startup companies of your own.  And I suspect that those of you who pursue more education, or climb the corporate ladder, or enter the arts or sciences or journalism, will still choose a cause you care about in your life and fight like heck to make it happen.

There is a word for this.  It’s citizenship.  We don’t always talk about this idea much these days, let alone celebrate it.  Sometimes, we see it as a virtue from another time – one that’s slipping from a society that celebrates individual ambition; a society awash in instant technology that empowers us to leverage our skills and talents like never before, but just as easily allows us to retreat from the world.  And the result is that we sometimes forget the larger bonds we share, as one American family.

But it’s out there, all the time, every day – especially when we need it most.  Just look at the past year.  When a hurricane struck our mightiest city, and a factory exploded in small-town Texas.  When bombs went off in Boston, and when a malevolent spree of gunfire visited a movie theater, a temple, an Ohio high school, a first-grade classroom in Connecticut.  In the aftermath of darkest tragedy, we have seen the American spirit at its brightest.  We’ve seen the petty divisions of color, class, and creed replaced by a united urge to help.  We’ve seen courage and compassion, a sense of civic duty, and a recognition that we are not a collection of strangers; we are bound to one another by a set of ideals, and laws, and commitments, and a deep devotion to this country we love.

That’s what citizenship is.  It’s the idea at the heart of our founding – that as Americans, we are blessed with God-given and inalienable rights, but with those rights come responsibilities – to ourselves, to one another, and to future generations.

But if we’re being honest, as you’ve studied and worked and served to become good citizens, the institutions that give structure to our society have, at times, betrayed your trust.

In the run-up to the financial crisis, too many on Wall Street forgot that their obligations don’t end with their shareholders.  In entertainment and in the media, ratings and shock value often trumped news and storytelling.  And in Washington – well, this is a joyous occasion, so let me put this charitably: I think it’s fair to say our democracy isn’t working as well as we know it can.  It could do better.  And those of us fortunate enough to serve in these institutions owe it to you to do better, every single day.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we might keep this idea alive at a national level – not just on Election Day, or in times of tragedy, but on all the days in between.  Of course, I spend most of my time these days in Washington, a place that sorely needs it.  But I think of what your generation’s traits – compassion and energy, a sense of selflessness and a boundless digital fluency – might mean for a democracy that must adapt more quickly to keep up with the speed of technological, demographic, and wrenching economic change.

I think about how we might perpetuate this notion of citizenship in a way that another politician from my home state, Adlai Stevenson, once described patriotism – not as “short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  And I’m not going to offer some grand theory – not when it’s a beautiful day and you’ve got some celebrating to do.  I’m not going to get partisan, either, because that’s not what citizenship is about.

In fact, I am asking the same thing of you that President Bush did when he spoke at this commencement in 2002:  “America needs more than taxpayers, spectators, and occasional voters,” he said.  “America needs full-time citizens.”

And as graduates from a university whose motto is “Education for Citizenship,” that’s what your country expects of you.  So briefly, I will ask you for two things: to participate, and to persevere.

After all, your democracy does not function without your active participation.  At a bare minimum, that means voting, eagerly and often.  It means knowing who’s been elected to make decisions on your behalf, what they believe in, and whether or not they deliver.  If they don’t represent you the way you want, or conduct themselves the way you expect – if they put special interests above your own – you’ve got to let them know that’s not okay.  And if they let you down, there’s a built-in day in November where you can really let them know that’s not okay.

You don’t have to run for office yourself.  But I hope many of you do, at all levels, because our democracy needs you.  I promise you, it’ll give you a tough skin.  I know a little bit about this.  Like President Wilson once said: “if you want to make enemies, try to change something.”

And that’s precisely what the founders left us: the power to adapt to changing times.  They left us the keys to a system of self-government – the tool to do big and important things together that we could not possibly do alone.  To stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent.  To educate our people with a system of public schools and land grant colleges, including Ohio State.  To care for the sick and the vulnerable, and provide a basic level of protection from falling into abject poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth.  To conquer fascism and disease; to visit the Moon and Mars; to gradually secure our God-given rights for all our citizens, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or who they love.

We, the people, chose to do these things together.  Because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.

Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner.  You should reject these voices.  Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems, nor do we want it to.  But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either.  Because we understand that this democracy is ours.  As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us.  It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

The founders trusted us with this awesome authority.  We should trust ourselves with it, too.  Because when we don’t, when we turn away and get discouraged and abdicate that authority, we grant our silent consent to someone who’ll gladly claim it.  That’s how we end up with lobbyists who set the agenda; policies detached from what middle-class families face every day; the well-connected who publicly demand that Washington stay out of their business – then whisper in its ear for special treatment that you don’t get.

That’s how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want.  That’s how our political system gets consumed by small things when we are a people called to do great things – rebuild a middle class, reverse the rise of inequality, repair a deteriorating climate that threatens everything we plan to leave for our kids and grandkids.

Only you can ultimately break that cycle.  Only you can make sure the democracy you inherit is as good as we know it can be.  But it requires your dedicated, informed, and engaged citizenship.  This citizenship is a harder, higher road to take.  But it leads to a better place.  It is how we built this country – together.  It is the question President Kennedy posed to the nation at his inauguration; the dream that Dr. King invoked.  It does not promise easy success or immediate progress.  But it has led to success, and it has led to progress.

That brings me to the second thing I ask of you – I ask you to persevere.

Whether you start a business or run for office or devote yourself to alleviating poverty or hunger, remember that nothing worth doing happens overnight.  A British inventor named Dyson went through more than 5,000 prototypes before getting that first really fancy vacuum cleaner just right.  We remember Michael Jordan’s six championships, not his nearly 15,000 missed shots. As for me, I lost my first race for Congress, and look at me now – I’m an honorary graduate of The Ohio State University!

The point is, in your life, you will fail.  You will stumble, and you will fall.  But that will make you better.  You’ll get it right the next time.  And that’s not only true for your personal pursuits, but for the broader causes you believe in as well.  But don’t give up.  Don’t lose heart, or grow cynical.  The cynics may be the loudest voices – but they accomplish the least.  It’s the silent disruptors – those who do the long, hard, committed work of change – that gradually push this country in the right direction, and make the most lasting difference.

Still, whenever you feel that creeping cynicism; whenever you hear those voices say you can’t make that difference; whenever somebody tells you to set your sights lower – the trajectory of America should give you hope.  What young generations have done before you should give you hope.  It was young folks like you who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat-in to secure women’s rights, and voting rights, and workers’ rights, and gay rights, often against incredible odds, often over the course of years, sometimes over the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.  Even if their rights were already secured, they fought to secure those rights and opportunities for others.  What they did should give you hope.

And where we’re going should give you hope.  Because while things are still hard for a lot of people, you have every reason to believe that your future is bright.  You are graduating into an economy and a job market that are steadily healing.  The once-dying American auto industry is on pace for its strongest performance in 20 years – something that means everything to many communities in Ohio and across the Midwest.  Huge strides in domestic energy, driven in part by research at universities like this one, have us on track to secure our own energy future.  And incredible advances in information and technology spurred largely by the risk-takers of your generation have the potential to change the way we do almost everything.

Still, if there is one certainty about the decade ahead, it’s that things will be uncertain.  Change will be a constant, just as it has been throughout our history.  And we still face many important challenges.  Some will require technological breakthroughs or new policy insights.  But more than anything, what we will need is political will, to harness the ingenuity of your generation, and encourage and inspire the hard work of dedicated citizens.

To repair the middle class; to give more families a fair shake; to reject a country in which only a lucky few prosper because it’s antithetical to our ideals and our democracy – that takes the dogged determination of citizens.

To educate more children at a younger age; to reform our high schools for a new time; to give more young people the chance to earn the kind of education you did at Ohio State and make it more affordable so they don’t leave with a mountain of debt – that takes the care and concern of citizens.

To build better roads and airports and faster internet; to advance the kind of basic research and technology that has always kept America ahead of everyone else – that takes the grit and fortitude of citizens.

To confront the threat of climate change before it’s too late – that requires the idealism and initiative of citizens.

To protect more of our kids from the horrors of gun violence – that requires the unwavering passion and untiring resolve of citizens.

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy told the class of 1963 that “our problems are man-made – therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants.”

We are blessed to live in the greatest nation on Earth.  But we can always be greater.  We can always aspire to something more.  That doesn’t depend on who you elect to office.  It depends on you, as citizens, how big you want to be, and how badly you want it.

Look at all America has accomplished.  Look at how big we’ve been.

I dare you to do better.  I dare you to be better.

From what I have seen of your generation, I have no doubt you will.  I wish you courage, and compassion, and all the strength you need for that tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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Local Control v Special Interest Control — Who’s In Charge Of Kettering Public Schools?

In Kettering, during this time of economic recession, the fact that the public is being pushed to approve a new 6.9 mill school tax issue raises the question: Who is in charge of Kettering Schools?

Kettering Schools’ anticipated budget shortfall is testimony to the power, over time, of compound interest. The five year forecast, that justifies the need for a 6.9 mill levy, shows increase in personnel expenses compounded 4.82% each year, for three years. The fact that 86% of the budget goes to personnel means this inflating of salaries carries a huge expense.

One year ago, when Board President, Jim Trent, voted against approving a new teacher’s contract that showed a 1.5% increase each year for two years, he was quoted by the DDN as saying, “After receiving feedback from many of our citizens, observing the latest economic news, and giving this topic an unbelievable amount of thought, I have reached the conclusion that because of the current economic turmoil, the time is not right to approve an increase in pay for anyone.”

The economic climate has not improved, but, now, Mr. Trent is supporting a 6.9 mill increase in tax with, basically, the purpose of giving teachers and administrators new pay increases. He is quoted in The Blue Ribbon Report saying that, without sufficient funds, cuts to program will need to be made that, “will seriously impact the quality of the education we can provide to our students.”

The message of the levy campaign is an implicit threat that 6.9 mills in additional tax increase is needed — or, the educational program in Kettering will suffer. And, as I see it, Mr. Trent is describing a budget strategy in which increases in teacher and administrator salaries have first priority, and, in the case where there is insufficient funds both to give salary increases and to maintain program, then, it sounds to me, Trent feels salary increases must have the priority. How else can his advocacy of the 6.9 mill levy be explained?

Why present a plan calling for 4.82% increases, each year, in personnel pay — causing a deficit needing 6.9 mills of additional tax to fill? Why not present the public a more modest tax increase request — based upon freezing changes in the teacher and administrator contracts for a few years? It seems to me, a system with leadership responsive to local control would have made such a choice. A teacher contract frozen for three years would save, I figure, over $11 million in the five year plan. The current contract provides about two-thirds of the Kettering teachers, each year, with a 6% “step” pay increase, and these “step” increases would continue if the contract was “frozen.”

The 4.82% increase, each year, called for in the last three years of the five year plan, evidently, is the anticipated amount required to negotiate a new teachers’ contract, and, it looks like Mr. Trent and the rest of the board feel a big need to acquiesce to the teachers’ union. It is interesting that Superintendent Schoenlein thought it more important to seek peace with the teacher’s union, rather than to follow his own judgment about how to increase Kettering test scores. He didn’t want KEA to be “disgruntled.” (See Kettering School Superintendent Acquiesces To Teacher’s Union Concerning 2011 Start Of School Date.)

In this time of economic recession, it is a tough sell to ask the public to voluntarily tax themselves so that teachers and administrators can have substantial pay increases. And so, advertisements for the 6.9 mill levy avoid the central issue of how 86% of this new revenue will be spent, and spokespersons, like Mr. Trent, warn, “without sufficient funds, cuts to program will need to be made.”

It would be refreshing if the board would publicly defend what, evidently, they believe: “Yes our teachers are the highest paid and we think it is in the public interest to keep increasing teacher salaries even higher.” I think there is a good argument in favor of such a point of view, and this pov could gain the support of a lot of Kettering voters. It’s an implicit issue in this campaign, why not make it explicit?

The request to Kettering voters to voluntarily raise property taxes to support Kettering Schools should be a good opportunity to have meaningful discussion about public education in Kettering. It should be an opportunity to begin talking about the long term future of public education in Kettering. What might happen is that, because this effort to sell this 6.9 mill tax increase seems so out of whack with the present economic reality, this 6.9 mill levy request might cause Kettering residents to wonder if their local system of public education in under local control, or whether it is under special interest control.

Written By Mike Bock

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