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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Commentary: Wake Up Davis

There is a lesson to be learned from the budget crisis at the schools level and it is a lesson that this blogger probably understands better than anyone. I do not say this to be bragging but I do have a finger on a pulse that most do not. There is no magic formula for blogging. The key is that you must provide content that people want to read. When there is an interesting story on a given day, readership goes up. When there is less interesting news, readership goes down. The day-to-day variability is amazing, although over the course of a month, it all tends to even out.

Last fall we had school board elections and yet people had no interest in them. When I talked about the school board race, readership went down. When I talked about other issues--city issues, county issues, readership went up. There was simply no interest in the school board election.

The blog was not an aberration either folks--only 30% of the public came out to vote in the school board election.

Now flash forward to the first three months of 2008, the opposite has occurred. When I write about city council issues or the election, readership goes down. When I talk about the school board and budget crises readership goes up.

This is a large problem--people were not paying attention to the schools until it was almost too late. It is very interesting when I got out into the community, I still receive feedback from the series on Tahir Ahad. People who do not ordinarily read this blog have read that story. The Vanguard has tremendous readership, but this story transcends even that. It has become the embodiment of the problems facing the school district.

And if that is rightly or wrongly the embodiment of what went wrong, then the enemy is amongst us--and it is complacency. The public may have been uninformed about the extent of the problem but enough people knew what was going on at the time that it should have come to the public's attention. And while we may blame the messenger (i.e. the local newspaper) for failing to sound the warning alarm, we may also blame the school board first for aiding and abetting and second for not shouting loudly enough. But at the end of the day, the problem is us.

We took for granted the fact that the schools in Davis are great and the backbone of this great community. We did not pay attention to what was going on at school board meetings. We did not heed the warnings coming down the pike. And now suddenly we have the wake up call and are wondering what is going on in the world.

The question is now how do we respond--and there have been a mix of responses. I do not mean here, how do we cut $4 million from the budget, that is the job of the school board to determine. I mean, how do we as a community respond.

Davis is an amazing place because we cannot sit by and allow this to happen. So people have banded together and formed private donations. And it is a wonderful thing, but it will not solve the problems that we face, it probably will not even be a full band-aid on the problem.

People have focused in on declining enrollment and there is no doubt that declining enrollment has played a part here, but it's still only a partial portion of the problem. Enrollment is going to level out according to the projections. I certainly hope that we will not have a wave of growth in this community because we think it is going to benefit the schools--because there is very little evidence that it will. Do not get me wrong, I think there are things we can do to put housing in that will benefit young families and we can do that without adding major sprawl, but the last thing we need to do in the face of this, is to start randomly approving a bunch of new housing developments, because that will likely make the problems worse and not better over time.

However, the big response that we need and have not gotten is attentiveness to all aspects of government because they all require our attention. There is a lesson that transcends local politics and that is if we are complacent, if we are inattentive to the world, then we lose. We became complacent as a nation to the problem of terrorism but also the problem with how the world responds to this nation and we paid for that with 9/11. To compound the problems, we became complacent as an electorate and elected a leader who instead of attacking the terrorists, invades another country that had very little do with the people who actually attacked us.

We are in the same danger as a community. Schools are important, this crisis is real, but there is much that is going on at other levels of government that requires our attention. The city council elections are vital to the future of this community. We learned last summer the importance of the county board of supervisors--do we want to elect someone to that position who will support Davis' right to determine its own future or will we support someone who will vote to determine our future for us? Although there is not an election coming up, people, innocent people's lives are being ruined by the policies of the District Attorney's office. There will be more on this in the coming week. And new areas of concern will arise this week. We cannot ignore them. We cannot assume they will not impact us.

That is the lesson that we need to take away from the budget crisis in the schools, but I fear that we are not learning from it at all.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting