Measure C

Is it a county without children?  
A very defensive Fringe on Measure C

Several people spoke to me about my support of Measure C; “spoke to me” as in “took me to the woodshed”. 

The woodshed.  Photo from Wiki

I’m familiar with the woodshed, but in this instance I’m given pause for two reasons.  First of all, many are people I respect.  Secondly, for a long time I was simply against Measure C.  It’s money we don’t have, and it might well be good money after bad.  I still have lingering doubt.
One person made the very persuasive argument that having babies is a thing of the past in Sierra County.  Our population is too old to have kids, and no family with children can afford to live here.  As winter comes, more families are heading for the greener pastures, somewhere with jobs and stores and better schools.  
What children there are can go to Portola or Grass Valley.  That’s unfortunate for Sierra City, whose children will have to travel over an hour wherever they go.

Schools are closing down all over California, mostly in the rural areas, mostly for this very reason.  Maybe our schools should be closing.  Maybe we should have a county with no schools, our communities completely free of children in the daytime, the streets silent except for the scrape of walkers on our crumbling sidewalks and the bark of lonely dogs.  Maybe every kid in Sierra County should have to do what rural kids already do: get on a bus and ride for an hour or so in blizzards and ice, in a conveyance that doesn’t even have seat belts, because we’re willing to risk our kids for thirty three bucks per hundred thousand dollars of evaluation.  It’s an honest discussion we have to have with ourselves.

Bear with me while I context this.  All over the earth, in every decade, people, meaning clans, tribes, and communities, have had to come to grips with stark reality.  Good example: there is a tribe in (I think) the Orinoco watershed with a high rate of birth defects; neighboring tribes decline to mate with them, so generation after generation they’ve mated only within their small community.  Recently, they concluded that they would have no more children.  They took a long time and talked about it and, as a community, decided to have no more kids.

For centuries Jewish villages had to decide whether to stay and hope to survive hard times, or whether to flee across rivers and borders with what they could carry.  For eons, literally, humans living in marginal places have had to let their old, and then their young, die of starvation so fertile adults could survive to repopulate the village when fatter times returned.  These are discussions communities need to have.

So, we need to have it.  Instead of talking about assessed valuations, let’s talk about whether we believe we should close our schools.

We should be aware of the consequences of such a decision.   If we let the schools become dilapidated, we increase the likelihood that parents won’t send their kids.  Without kids, schools can’t afford to operate, because schools are like contractors who only get paid of your kid’s butt warms a seat.  We don’t really support schools in this system, it’s sink or swim, just like a grocery store, or a ranch, or, for that matter, a brothel.
Further, if you want to see the Valley ringed with houses, you’d better figure some of them will have kids.  Is it cheaper to keep a school going, or start from scratch?  Will the “developers” be made to provide schools?  In short, if you think that someday fatter times will come, and those of us who are not barren might have children again, you’d better plan for that day.  It’s called the future.  As in, “our children are our future.”

We have a school board; few of us know who the members are and don’t think of them until something about the schools rots and floats to the surface, and we want to know who to blame.  Whose fault is it the schools are so run down?  It’s our fault.  You can’t just elect someone and forget about them; take an interest.  How many school board meetings are held with no one from the public present?  I don’t go to school board meetings; Don Russell covers them when there’s just nothing else to complain about.  

We can probably disagree about how the money is spent.  Sierraville School should be closed.  It’s a shame, but it’s too expensive to retrofit if there are no kids there.  Or, it might be fair to bus Loyalton and Sierra City kids to Sierraville and send Downieville little kids on a dangerous bus trip every day; close Loyalton elementary and fix Sierraville.  The Loyalton Middle School was a clapboard building when it was built.  I’ve heard optimistic opinions from administrators who say it just needs a little paint, and realistic descriptions from contractors who say it’s too valueless to fix and too expensive to tear down.  Those are discussions we could have when there is money to spend.  For now, it’s more about if we’re going to save anything.

I’ll be the first to say that good times are a decade away.  Like everyone else, I’ve been aware that families are fleeing to find jobs or live with family elsewhere.  
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I have no use for public schools, not when I was a prisoner in one, and not when I worked providing services to them.  They serve two primary purposes: for conservatives they serve the purpose of teaching the spawn of the rabble to keep regular hours and treat their betters with respect, so they’ll fit in the capitalist model.  For the liberal intelligencia, they serve the purpose of teaching the ragged children of those less fortunate how to comport themselves, how to have an orderly, pro-social way of looking at things, and how to be grateful.  Schools are about socialization, a job most over-paid professionals think shouldn’t be left to amateurs.  

Further, I can (after my trips to the woodshed schoolhouse) almost list by heart the names of local people living and dead who screwed the school system one way or another.  If upper school administration was a light gas, we could send the kids to school out of county in a dirigible.  It’s unbelievable the fortune some people have made on the schools.

So, why even consider giving up money on a scheme that literally might never be paid off?
Because not everyone can home school.  Not every parent has a computer or knows how to use it.  Because, sometimes, public school really is the only way a kid can do more than his folks, the only way to specialized training.  It’s the only way some kids can get food during the day.  It’s the only way some mothers can afford to work.  It’s the only safe haven some kids who lead very scary lives can count on.
And, because we don’t want our streets silent of children.

Here’s my solution:
1. Have a public discussion and decide if children are welcome in Sierra County or not.
2. If they are, pass the bond.
3. When the bond is passed, we’ll hold the board to have public meetings to discuss the priorities for the schools.
4. Everyone who has doubts about the bond, and especially everyone who took me to the woodshed (except the one who only tickled) will be there.  Yeah, it sucks, it takes up time we could spend on something else, it’s expensive to drive everywhere, but instead of writing off the schools, end the benign neglect we’ve shown them and invest our time as well as our money in the future.

Unless we have already decided we don’t need kids in Sierra County.

As a final note, no, I haven’t turned my back on the ranchers, my Daddy was a cowboy until he lost the farm, a real cowboy, too, in the sagebrush mountains, not one of these big-butted bottom-land ranchers, but that’s a story for another time.

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