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OPINION: Children are people, too

As I sat in my easy chair the evening of Dec. 8, already most of a month ago now, my wife called to me the wonderful news from the other room, "They just announced that the pool passed. Fifty-four percent approval."...

Joe Graves mug 2013.JPG

As I sat in my easy chair the evening of Dec. 8, already most of a month ago now, my wife called to me the wonderful news from the other room, "They just announced that the pool passed. Fifty-four percent approval."

I smiled and quietly rejoiced, because this was a definite win for Mitchell. And I appreciated the victory of those who had worked so hard for the indoor swimming pool's passage because I am, from past experience, well versed in just how much heavy lifting is required to win that sort of election.

It was only several days later that a rather sobering reality occurred to me. Had those same results come in for a school bond election - to build a new elementary school or an athletic facility or any of the many other construction needs of school districts - it would have failed. For in a school election, 54 percent is not enough. School bond issue elections require a supermajority of 60 percent.

Now, you may at this point counter with the thought that a supermajority should be required for bond issues, because those involve raising taxes. While I understand that point very well and consider myself a superintendent who tries hard to hold tax rates down - in the 14 years that Mitchell's opt-out has existed, we have never levied the full amount possible, have levied nothing at all during five of those years and levied an average of only 31.6 percent of the maximum - that blade cuts both ways.

Yes, since everyone has to pay a tax increase, it does seem reasonable that the rationale for it should be broadly agreed to. But, notice that the swimming pool election passed at 54 percent when no tax increase was involved. Voters, it can be assumed, are more willing to support an idea when the revenues to pay for it come out of the existing tax levy. When the levy will go up as a result, the electoral mountain that must be climbed gets a lot steeper. Thus, when a school district seeks a new school building through a bond issue and taxes will go up as a result, a larger percentage of voters will much more easily say no just when a larger percentage of voters need to say yes in order to secure approval.

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Probably my musings on such a professionally perceived inequity would have remained private had I not happened upon a somewhat startling article by Rachel Lu, a philosophy professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

It was the headline that originally caught my eye, "When Will Children Be Regarded as 'Regular People' Again?" But it was the seemingly obvious recognition of the outrageousness of a specific statement that brought it home for me. In speaking to people during her young, single days, Lu would hear things like the following: "I think I might like to be married, but definitely no kids. I really don't like kids."

I've heard statements like this in the past and haven't given it much thought. Lu gives it a lot of thought:

"Are there whole swaths of humanity that we're permitted to dismiss en masse as loathsome? In modern discourse, admitting to disliking women is effectively labeling oneself a monster. Misandry is more socially accepted, but most people at least try to sugarcoat it; even your more ardent feminists rarely admit to being man-haters. And imagine someone announcing, 'Elderly people are so obnoxious. I would really prefer just not to be around them.' Who are you, Hitler? This would be an outrageous thing to say.

"Kids, though, are not universally regarded as regular people, of the sort one is obliged to tolerate. In some people's eyes, they are projects. Pets. Accessories. They are extensions of the adults who have spawned them, and just as with any hobby, it is the builder's responsibility to ensure that the project doesn't inconvenience anyone else."

I really don't want to believe Professor Lu is right about this, but there are a great many realities in our society that argue that she made be dead on. Horton the Elephant may believe that "A person's a person no matter how small," but an awful lot of us seem deaf to the pleas of the Whos out on Whoville.

And one small example of that is the fact it is only school districts which, under the law, are consistently required to capture a 60 percent supermajority when they need a tax increase in order to build. Counties don't. Cities have an extensive list of projects, under the law, in which only a majority vote is necessary. The Legislature needs a two-thirds supermajority in order to levy a new tax, but notice that it essentially imposed this requirement on itself through its sponsorship of a constitutional amendment.

So why is it that schools, uniquely among governmental bodies in South Dakota, have uniformly imposed upon them a higher electoral burden when trying to pass a bond issue?

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If it is the reality of the tax burden levied on all, not just those voting for the bond issue, Professor Lu has one more thought, familiar to parents everywhere, "Children are people. And people are both precious and burdensome, sometimes in the very same moment."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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