For over a year, I have accompanied the ‘Friends of Neighborhood Schools’ in their efforts to raise awareness to the Moline District’s ‘Plan,’ and feel compelled to join those who have already sent letters alerting against its goals and methods. Specifically, my concern is with the District’s representation of its constituents –that is, Moline and Coal Valley’s taxpayers. I ask, whose ‘plan’ is this?
The motto for the District’s ‘Operational Plan for Continuous Improvement’ is that it is a response to a “moral imperative” to ‘raise the bar and close the achievement gap for all students’ (www.molineschools.org). Yet, what is a ‘moral imperative’, and what should this mean to a school district? In the opinion of this observer, the School District –main destination of the tax dollars of Moline and Coal Valley residents- should assure -or at least not threaten- the safety of its children, neighborhoods, and communities.
With a minimum cost of $17.3 million, the District’s plan guarantees a debt that Moline and Coal Valley tax payers will pay, if lucky, forty years from now. By then, the ‘new Hamilton school’ will be all but a ‘state of the arts’ institution. Whose ‘plan’ is this?
Ericcson and Garfield neighbors fear the impact of the school closures in their communities, and Hamilton neighbors and business owners fear the consequences of a clearly necessary second expansion of 7th street (a cost to all taxpayers), and the traffic congestions exiting Hamilton on 32nd Avenue. At a recent meeting at Hamilton School on May 6th, Hamilton residents expressed their discontent with the plan loud and clear. Whose ‘plan’ is this?
Under the District’s plan, children will have to take dangerous walks to school, the value of their homes will decrease, and the possibilities for their parents/guardians to be actively involved in their education will diminish. This is particularly salient in the Floreciente neighborhood, whose children will be walking over a mile through some of the city’s least accessible areas (hills, no sidewalks, lack of traffic signs, ravines….please take the journey if in doubt, and imagine it at below zero temperatures). The District asks that the students –six-year-olds- take the public bus. Yet, no parent wants his/her six-year-old to ride the public bus alone. For families without a car –and there are many in Floreciente- the cost of public transportation includes $.50 cent fare each way for the child ($1 per day), plus the fare of the accompanying adult ($4 per day, since they have to take the bus back and forth each time). Most of the mothers in Floreciente with a six-year-old have a second younger child, who they cannot leave home alone. For a family of humble means –and assuming the student does not have a little brother or sister-, this represents $5.00 per day, which multiplied by the number of school days per year (185 days if following the guidelines for the State of Illinois) amounts to approximately $925.00 annually (to dispel any doubt, $720 if using the bus pass), in addition to the almost $2,000 in taxes these families are already paying the School District. Whose ‘Plan’ is this?
And finally, to all the above, let me add the wealth of research showing the value of neighborhood schools in the wellbeing of students and communities. The closing lines of an article ‘for immediate release’ distributed at the School Board meeting on April 10th reads, “The district invites the community to share in this celebration” (my emphasis). If by ‘community’ the District is addressing the taxpayers of Moline and Coal Valley, the choice of the word ‘celebration’ is inadequate– after all, this ‘party’ was never theirs.
Araceli Masterson-Algar, Ph.D., Rock Island resident and volunteer at the Palomares Social Justice Center