Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Many questions to be answered following election

(Published 9/1/07)

Much of the work of politics is actually done after the election, when you can reflect on the campaign through the prism of the results and with the benefit of hindsight.

After Tuesday’s triple rejection of the proposed millage increase for schools, there’s a lot of reflecting to be done – not only by school administrators, who now face enrollment, curriculum and facilities challenges without additional funding, but also by residents of Auburn, Opelika and Lee County.

Some people consider it a rejection of school administrators’ financial leadership; others, a wholesale rejection of the growth planning procedures of local governments. And others offered other explanations:

  • In an online forum, one observer suggested that the schools’ decision to pursue seven mills instead of three or five doomed the referenda. Residents would have been happy to support a three- or five-mill increase, he said; instead, school officials erred when they "went for gold."
  • Another person this week said he believed people simply decided that extras, like laptop computers, weren’t integral to having "excellent" schools.
  • Conventional wisdom holds that low turnout is good for potentially controversial issues, like a tax increase. The caveat, of course, is that the turnout has to include a disproportionate number of supporters. Turnout was reported to be 10 percent in Lee County, 17 percent in Opelika and 14 percent in Auburn. It appears that for whatever reason, parents of school-age children didn’t turn out in strong enough numbers.
Another possible but more disturbing explanation for Tuesday’s results is that people here no longer consider excellent schools to be an indispensable part of the community’s identity.

Folks voted no – or not at all – because if the referenda failed, they would still have "really good" schools, one observer opined.

The people have spoken. Here’s hoping the superintendents can get creative.

* * *

Congratulations to the boys of the Little League baseball team from Warner Robins, Ga. In winning the state’s second world title in as many years, they defeated Japan Sunday in an eight-inning thriller on a towering home run from the team’s best hitter.

But it was what happened after the game that had people talking on Monday.

After a few seconds of jubilant celebration befitting a world title, the winners made their way onto the field to console their heartbroken adversaries, some of whom were prone and sobbing on the infield grass. World stage or not, these are 12- and 13-year-old boys, and losing such a big game – especially in extra innings – hurts.

Over the next few minutes, the winners encouraged their opponents. It was heartwarming. The enduring image for me will be of one particular Japanese player who was sobbing so hard that his shoulders heaved. He threw himself into the arms of a taller boy from the Georgia team, who patted him on the back. You could read his lips: "Good game. Good game." I’ve never been prouder of someone I’ve never met.

This scene unfolded on the hallowed grounds of Williamsport just a few hours before Michael Vick pled guilty in the dog fighting scandal that threatens to ruin his career and mere weeks after Barry Bonds surpassed Hank Aaron as the home run king of baseball.

But in Williamsport, if only for a moment, faith in sport was renewed. No performance-based, incentive-laden contracts here; the glory of the game itself is enough.

Sportsmanship, class and pure passion for the game: the pros could learn a lot from the kids from Warner Robins. They are better role models and more heroes than many of the men on the cards they collect.

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