Monday, March 31, 2008

Annual non-recurring nonsense

I get a chuckle every year when I read the wording of the RUSD referendum question. Every year the referendum asks to exceed the revenue limit for "non-recurring purposes."

This must be a mistake. I think they meant "ever-recurring purposes."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Downtown Woes

I have been getting increasingly worried about the health of downtown Racine. Largely this is due to the numerous retail vacancies on Main Street. Several businesses have departed over the last year or so. By itself, this is not unusual or even cause for alarm, but the problem is the departing businesses are not being replaced by new businesses.

Many of the departing businesses are retail shops of one sort or another. Restaurants seem to be doing well and apartments are hard to come by, so it seems that the problem is primarily found among retailers.

I don't know exactly the reasons for this problem, but I suspect that increased property values may play a part. Many buildings have changed hands in the last few years and the cost of buying a building downtown has increased quite dramatically. If a building owner hopes to profit from his investment, he will invariably begin to raise the rent. The problem is that many retailers can't afford the new higher rents and they end up closing. New businesses can't afford the rent either so they don't bother.

Recent building buyers may have payed too much for their buildings. Ultimately, they will either need to sell their buildings at a loss or lose money by lowering the rent or by having no renters at all.

My hope is that this will play out without causing too much harm to what I believe to be a wonderful downtown.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Kids and Crises

There will always be a financial crisis at Unified, especially at referendum time. The crisis will change from one year to the next, lest the citizens catch on to the game. This year it is school maintainance. Previous years it has been money for sports. Next year the kids will need new textbooks or chemistry labs or some such thing.

The financial crisis will never ever be about the adults. The plea for money will never be about improving the heath insurance package for teachers or ensuring adequate money for the administrative salaries. The crisis will always be about the kids.

As such, Unified has zero incentive to either solve their financial problems or admit as much to the public. Their needs to be a financial crisis every year. Without one, it will be too difficult to pass a referendum.

If we pass this referendum and next years etc... we are ensuring that RUSD will never be financially responsible.

Question for "Yes" voters

Why are some Racine area schools able to quietly meet payroll, educate children, and maintain their buildings year after year while Racine Unified is never able to do so despite having a far larger per student budget?

Do "yes" voters ever consider such questions?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Detroit Woes

The average selling price for a home in the city of Detroit over the past two months is $22,000 according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. No doubt this bad news can be attributed to the low taxes, clean politicians and the prevailing anti-union philosophy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Political Dilemma

From time to time I am asked to endorse a local candidate, perhaps write a letter to the editor, sign an endorsement petition, or otherwise signal my support for a candidate. Thus far I have chosen not to do so.

My reasoning, which I am now openly questioning, is that I endorse ideas, not people. Well that is all well and good, but we elect people, not ideas.

I also want to feel free to challenge all of our elected officials, even those that I generally support. Perhaps I would be hesitant to publicly disagree with an elected official that I had previously endorsed. Then again, I am generally not all that reluctant to criticize, so that is perhaps a weak argument.

Please feel free to weigh in on my issue, tell me to get over myself or whatever, within reason, of course.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Parental Involvement Hypocrisy

Parental involvement, parental involvement, parental involvement. Listen carefully to the advocates of RUSD, and you will hear lots of talk about the importance of parental involvement. And they are right of course. Parents do need to be involved in their children's education.

However, I am quite sure they don't really mean it. After all, the most important decision an involved parent can make is to decide where to send their child to school. And the same people who lecture us about the importance of parental involvement are the ones who will fight to prevent parents from making the most important decision that they can make regarding their child's education.

If people really wanted parental involvement in education, they would work to ensure that parents have the ability to choose the right school for their child. In other words, they would support school choice. And until they do, all their talk about parental involvement is just that, talk.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Limits of Secular Morality

Many public and secular schools are undertaking the difficult task of initiating anti-bullying programs while remaining unabashedly secular. The following is an imaginary conversation between a student and teacher at such a school.

Teacher: Johnny, stop hitting Billy.
Johnny: But it's fun and Billy hasn't given me his lunch money yet.
T: Johnny, bullying is wrong!
J: What makes something wrong teacher?
T: Well, we don't treat people like that.
J: Who's "we"? We do in my culture. Are you suggesting that my culture is inferior to yours. Aren't you being intolerant and judgemental?
T: Look Johnny, people have rights.
J: What rights and where did we get them?
T: Well, do you remember our lessons about our constitution? Our forefathers wrote a remarkable document that protects our rights.
J: So we have rights because of stuff written by a bunch of dead guys?
T: Well those dead guys didn't think it was they who were giving us our rights.
J: Interesting! Where did those dead guys think we got our rights?
T: Umm, uh, look Johnny, would you want to be treated like you are treating Billy?
J: You are not answering my question but I will go along anyway. No, I wouldn't want Billy to beat me up and take my lunch money. That's why I eat well balanced meals and do 100 pushups a day. What's your point?
T: My point is that we should treat people like we would want to be treated.
J: Now that is an interesting concept teacher. Can you tell me the origins of that idea?
T: It is time to go to the principals office Johnny.

I know, this is a silly and entirely unlikely conversation, but I offer it to suggest that a secular only approach to teaching about moral issues has its limits, and that we are doing a disservice, even handicapping, our children if we do not explore moral issues in greater depth.

Unite with Wright

Just when you thought you have heard it all, along comes the Reverend Glen Halbe.

In a letter to the editor today in the Racine Journal Times, Halbe decries the "irresponsible journalism" that serves to "smear and sully the good name and reputation of one of the nation's greatest black ministers, Reverend Doctor Jeremiah Wright." No, it is not Wright sullying his own reputation with his own despicable and hateful words, rather, it is the fault of the irresponsible journalists for sharing the great man's words.

Halbe tells us that one of the goals of Wright's church is to "eradicate the color line in America" and that we should "join together in that effort." Well, I am all for discussing and denouncing racism, but please pardon me if I don't look to Obama's church for guidance on this issue.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Success and Private Schools

Racine Unified School Board Members recently wrote a full commentary in the Racine Journal Times. I would like to focus on one thing that they have written. Here it is:

"If there is one thing we can all agree on, it's that the success of Racine County and the district are tied to each other."

Is this really something we all agree on? I, for one, do not agree with this statement.

I say that the failings of Racine County and the failings of Unified are very much tied to each other. I also say that success is highly correlated with a good education. The success of Racine County is tied to education, I would agree, but is it necessarily tied only to Racine Unified? In other words, there are schools other than those within Unified that can educate children and help lead to success for Racine County.

In a nutshell, the problem I have with the statement by the school board members is the assumption that only Unified can educate children and lead our county forward. This erroneous assumption ignores the many highly successful private schools that exist within our community. If we are going to speak of countywide education strategies, we should recognize the valuable contributions of the many private schools in Racine County.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Anonymous Game

Now is your chance to predict how "anonymous" will disagree with the following pronouncement: I, Denis Navratil, unequivocally oppose the rape and murder of children.

I will start the game.

From anon: "Typical right wing ideological statement. Check out the Center for Missing and Abused Children and you will see how pervasive this problem is. My family has been in business for fifty years."

Your turn.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thoughts on Black and White

I regularly disagree with black people with respect to politics. The reason for the disagreement is because black people are nearly all liberals. And I am largely in agreement with black conservatives. Thus the issue is politics, not skin color.

I find racism to be an ugly mindset to say the least. And I suspect that this problem is more prevelant in the black community than among white people. Why? Because there is a much higher degree of racial solidarity among blacks than among whites. Blacks are nearly all liberal and are very likely to shun the conservatives among them. Have you seen the rantings of Barack Obama's minister? "We (Americans, presumably white Americans) believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God" he said among many other blatantly racist statements. Of course there are racists among whites, but are they getting anything approaching widespread support among whites? No, they are not. But if you look at clips of Minister Wright's sermons that are now all over the internet and the television, you will see an audience rejoicing in his hateful speech.

But let me be quite clear here. The answer to black racism is not white racism. And this I want Discriminator (recent poster on race who favors white solidarity) and others to understand.

I reject the idea of racial solidarity among blacks and I reject the idea of racial solidarity among whites. Both are harmful ideologies. Hate will get you nowhere.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

JT Gets it Right

Congratulations to the Racine Journal Times editorialists who actually came out against a proposal to charge the rich a higher tuition at UW schools. Wow!

The Fear Business

An election is upcoming in Racine so it is time to bash businesses in search of votes. One aldermanic candidate hoping to clean up Racine wants to "single out businesses that are scaring people."

My opinion: we would be far better off if we singled out people with an odd paranoia about businesses.

I am sure there will be some disagreement here so I challenge anyone to name one local business that they fear. Then, ask yourself if it is the business that you fear or the patrons of the business.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Spending Alternatives

It is a good idea to consider alternative uses of the money extracted from taxpayers. For example, many on the left will be able to tell you how many people we could have insured had we not spent the money in Iraq. But these same folks will seldom apply this kind of thinking to Unified's financial woes. What did Unified spend the money on that could have been used to maintain their buildings? Why does Unified have poorly maintained buildings while private schools are able to maintain their buildings with much less money?

If we start to ask these kind of questions, we will realize that Unified is a poor steward of our collective contributions, and that maybe it would be unwise to provide more money for them to squander. I mean really, we could be spending that money on a new rain garden or a public windmill.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Shut Up and Pay

The city of Racine has issued 15,304 citations to property owners last year, according to a recent JT article. "The city has called them citations,.... but the violations no longer go through the municipal citation process, which involves the court system." In other words, anonymous city employees are both judge and jury, and you, the lowly citizen, should just shut up and pay. But not to worry. This program is "noticeably enhancing the quality of life within our neighborhoods throughout Racine" says Mayor Becker.