La Feria News

So what now?

So what now? The proposed bond issue to renovate C.E. Vail has failed to win community support by a large margin. Does this mean the community no longer supports the La Feria schools and the kids who attend them? I certainly hope not. I am going to surmise the Legislature will fund the IFA in the future, so in an effort to better prepare for a future bond election (and to not surrender $35,000 to a negative result) I offer my take on the problems and mistakes which led to the defeat of the latest proposal.

First, Vail is perceived by many in the community as an inferior facility to the other elementary campuses. The perception is “good money after bad” or “money pit.”

Second, many stakeholders felt left out of the process. They felt the bond was being jammed through. The Neighborhood Schools concept (unfairly since it is a totally different issue) was used to rally opponents to the bond since that too was pushed through without much community outreach.

Third, many questioned the “representative group” that reviewed the facility needs of the district. To my knowledge a list of the people in the group was not released.

Fourth, the numbers weren’t clearly delineated and seemed to be in a constant state of flux. From the cost of Vail renovations and the proposed Agriculture facility, to the way the tax increase was presented (using monthly and Homestead Exemption figures without stating such), to the contingency costs, the perception was something disingenuous was happening.

In my opinion these four problems were instrumental in the defeat of this measure. I do NOT believe it had to be this way. I think the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and Chief Financial Officer failed to do their jobs in regard to the bond election. My reasoning is as follows.

Let’s look at what they did in support of the bond. They met with PTO groups. While this is good and necessary, the bond proposal would be just an item on the agenda and the condition of Vail would not be a large concern to parents of kids attending other schools. They went to the parent conference. Same problems as existed with the PTO meetings and likely a repeat audience. They had a joint meeting with city officials. I can’t say if this was dedicated to the Bond or not since I only learned of it after it had taken place. They met with the Lions Club. While this is an excellent organization with good people, I am not a member nor did I speak to any member about the Bond. I would venture to say that is true of most patrons in the district. These are the good and true things the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and CFO did in support of the Bond.

Here’s what they didn’t do. They never addressed or engaged the opposition. Whether through arrogance or ignorance, I believe the trio did not take the opposition seriously. Quite frankly, a private citizen did more to counter the opponents’ arguments than the trio from Central Office. I know of one Board member who offered to meet with anyone and discuss the Bond. While the private citizen and the Board member (and others like them) deserve accolades for their efforts, the District doesn’t pay them a third of a million dollars a year.

Perhaps I am delusional but I think it obvious that with the creation of the Keeping It Honest page, the three people most accountable should have joined Facebook and offered to engage with the community. Personally, I kept waiting for the engagement, but it never came. Using the four problems, here is what I think this could have looked like.

For one, walking tours of the Vail campus could be scheduled once or twice a week at various evening and daytime hours for as many weeks as necessary until a vast majority of the opposition had been educated on the positives of the campus (the reason to continue to invest in the campus) and negatives of the campus (buildings that need to come down.) Discussion could/should have taken place on why other alternatives (using Dominguez, Houston and Sanchez as Pre-K-5 elementary schools and returning Green to a middle school for example) were discarded if considered at all.

For two, this is a hard one but an effort could have been made to show that the two issues are separate.

For three, release a list of the committee members. They should have been prepared and ready to answer questions about the process.

For four, be as clear as possible: home/business value – homestead exemption X tax rate = yearly cost; and be as simple as possible: what are contingency costs and what will happen to that money if it is not needed; and be as current as possible: make sure you have 2015-16 median values.

Finally, monthly meetings could/should have been scheduled to address questions and issues. These meetings could/should have been advertised on Keeping It Honest, Vote Yes for LF Kids, and flyers at locations around town. This simple effort would have reached a vast majority of the patrons.

Certainly, some minds would not have been changed, but some might have been persuaded. At the least, the district’s information would have been laid out for the patrons. Also, if you are the three highest paid and hierarchal employees of a school system, shouldn’t you at least try and educate?

Finally, there is a perception among faculty, staff, and community that this is an imperial administration. Correctly or incorrectly, that is the reality. Also a reality, there are only seven people with the authority to demand change.

The question is, will they?

– Michael Nicholson

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