Since our writers are sharing their Labor Day stories this week, I guess I'd better get into the act. One of my first newspaper jobs, out in the Boston 'burbs, was to cover the affluent towns of Dover and Sherborn, Massachusetts, where life was so sleepy that a raccoon getting a peanut butter jar stuck on its head was big news. (Yes, I broke that story.)
I went to my first Board of Selectmen meeting (like our city council), and... yawn. The reporter from the other paper and I were the only ones in the audience.
The biggest thing that Dover and Sherborn had going for them, along with their bucolic setting, was the school district they shared — one of the top districts in the state. People literally begged, stole and borrowed to move to these towns to give their kids a leg up. At my first School Board meeting, the room was packed, with parents lined up out the door to cajole and/or berate the board members into correct decisions.
You've got to love those those flinty New Englanders: Go ahead and wreck the town all you want, but you will only mess up this school district over our dead bodies.
And that leads to Spokane Public Schools and the Spokane Education Association trying to finalize a new contract. We all hope that will have happened by the time you read this column, but it won't be the end of the story.
The teachers and staff are justified to be irritated. Like a lot of people, they were hit by the recession; they have waited, the legislature finally acted and now they deserve a raise. And they are also right to stand up for themselves — that's a lesson I want my own kids to learn.
But there's more to their grievance than just pay; protests also veer into how education money is being spent, including complaints about too much testing and too few teachers. There are profound philosophical questions, along with hard financial realities, baked into this debate. Here at the Inlander, we're preparing to cover these issues in depth in the coming year.
I wound up doing some behind-the-scenes reporting at Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, and the community support really did create an impressive institution. It showed me that public education is everybody's business. I've found our local schools to be impressive, too — the switch to all-day kindergarten being a recent success, along with improving graduation rates. The administration and the teachers all share the proud calling of education, and they each bring particular gifts to the team. When they put it all together, our kids win. ♦