Education, democracy and you

Sunday, March 29, 2009

By Paul Nenninger

There is a school board election April 7. Do we all want the best in education for our children, students and community? Well, not quite all of us want that. In the 2008 school board election only 19 percent of the registered voters in the Cape Girardeau School District bothered to vote.

The board of education is composed of seven members. Two or three of them are elected annually in early April. The men and women who serve on the board of education are not paid. They volunteer their time, abilities and expertise. Their decisions affect a district that employs nearly 700 full- and part-time employees, serves around 4,000 students in prekindergarten through high school, provides career and technical education for adults, maintains many buildings, acquires and disposes of real estate and administers a $46 million budget.

The majority of your property taxes support the public school district.

The Missouri School Board Association's executive director, Carter D. Ward, in a Jan. 24 letter to the editor in the Southeast Missourian, made several important points about school boards:

"School boards are a fundamental part of our democracy. They serve as the link between the community and their schools. That role is critical to guarantee our communities have a say in how our schools operate. The decisions school boards make often have a greater long-term impact on our communities than those of any other governmental body. ... Effective school boards establish policies that require high standards, a rigorous curriculum and high-quality teachers. ... School boards sit in trust on behalf of the community to ensure that the community is getting a solid return on the investment of its tax dollars."

What will motivate you to get out and vote April 7?

In an election, silence is consent.

By not voting, you consent to letting those who vote, those who care for any reason, that 19 percent who voted in the 2008 election to determine the results for the other 81 percent who failed to vote.

You can rant and rave over coffee, in the neighborhood, at the gym, at meetings, after church or in Speak Out, but the only voice that really counts is the one heard when you vote.

Some years ago during a commencement address at the Citadel, President Ronald Reagan described how character is formed that leads us to do the right thing:

"The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined -- by a thousand other choices made earlier in the seemingly unimportant moments -- by all those 'little' choices of years past -- by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation -- whispering a lie that 'it doesn't really matter' -- by all the day to day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seem far away, the decisions that piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness; habits of self sacrifice, or self indulgence; habits of duty and honor -- or dishonor and shame."

What example of character and citizenship will you display?

Will you be silent and consent, or will you shout with your vote?

Will you exercise the power of knowledge by learning about the school board candidates and vote an informed decision for the best in education for all students?

Or do you hear the whisper "it doesn't really matter"?

Paul L. Nenninger is vice president of the Cape Girardeau School Board. Paul.Nenninger@gmail.com

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