How does that saying go? All politics is local?
It's something that gets lost when we're in the midst of the boisterous excesses of a national presidential campaign. But last week, at a public forum to discuss the Summit Hill District 161 cuts, I witnessed an example of that adage in action as more than 30 district parents and residents hashed out ideas and vented frustration over finding ways eliminate a $2.5 million shortfall in the 2012-13 budget.
This wasn't about guys with names like Newt and Mitt and Rick and Ron. This night was about Jim Olsen and his brother-in-law, Brian Mapeli. It was about Jen Vargas and the other Jen Vargas, who is a mother of five and
president of the Athletic Boosters for Summit Hill Junior High and Hilda Walker Intermediate schools. It was about Jeri Bonmo, Kelly Meister, Ericka Soroko, Shannon Fisher, Val Goetseh and others.
These concerned residents--whether they had kids in the district or were just taxpayers--attended the forum, which was led by Superintendent Barb Rains, not to engage in a mass gripe session but to offer legitimate solutions to the challenges on the horizon for the district.
(And let me be clear: When I say politics, I don't mean the underhanded, back-biting often associated with the concept. I'm talking about the process that gets roads built, laws passed and, in this case, children educated.)
Mapeli suggested renting out the gyms to area sports teams. Meister added the idea of making families pay for bus service. Goetseh offered up the idea of looking into tuition-based kindergarten. Rains had all the ideas written up on a white board for her to consult later.
The one idea from the participants that didn't need to go up on the board because it was the theme of not just the evening, but the entire budget-cutting process: We're willing to give up some things if it means we're not sacrificing the education of the children.
It's that willingness to sacrifice by parents that extends to using their money for increased fees or eliminating special programs for kids to participate in or even shutting down a whole school so long as it's the best solution for district students. It's a message, I would imagine, that wasn't lost on Rains or the two D161 board members in attendance, Sean William Doyle and Stacey Borgens.
That's a remarkable sentiment in an era where people expect fixes without consequences. And it shows that the residents in D161 want to come together to solve problems even if they disagree on how to do it.
Ultimately, a decision will be made about the direction of the district and not everyone will be happy. The parents I spoke with realize this, and it's why they're attending board meetings and forums: To take advantage of having their voices heard while there's still a chance.
It's why some of them stayed well after the meeting to talk to neighbors, strangers, board members and friends, expressing their opinions, looking to understand the situation and offering to do what they can to help.
Even if it means making things a little harder on themselves.
Yes, all politics is local. That's where the action is. That's where people make a difference.