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Our kids as lab rats


Our kids as lab rats Watching the slowly developing race for three open seats on the District 11 Board of Education, from the standpoint of one who owns property in the district, is a bit like watching a forest fire march across the ridges toward your mountain home.

You know that if the weather doesn't change, the fire will reach you. You only hope that you'll be lucky, that your house will somehow survive, unscathed, in the coming inferno.

Let's consider what's really happening in D-11. A couple of years ago, developer Steve Schuck and his rich right-wing buddies across the country (including Denver software magnate Ed McVaney) orchestrated the election of four newbies to the D-11 board.

In a stealthy, masterfully run campaign, they poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the usually sleepy school board election, ensuring the success of the so-called "reform" slate. Of the four, one, Sandy Shakes, wouldn't go along with program, foiling the plans of the Schuck-McVaney axis.

And what were those plans? Given the public utterances of Schuck, as well as the remarks of board members Eric Christen and Craig Cox, it's not hard to guess.

All of them favor a sweeping voucher program, even if it de-funds the district itself, which would be forced to subsidize private schools with taxpayer dollars.

All of them believe the district has been poorly led and inefficiently administered. So, expect them to fire the newly chosen superintendent and install a pliable right-wing tool in her place.

All of them are suspicious of teachers generally, and openly despise the teachers' professional association. (OK, it's a union.) So, expect them to make life as unpleasant as possible for all of those nasty lefties who, they believe, are polluting the minds of our poor, helpless kids.

And all of 'em believe that they know best -- that they can successfully reorganize the entire K-12 curriculum to meet the ideological demands of the extreme right. So, say goodbye to evolution, and hello to creationism. Say goodbye to diversity, and hello to uniformity. And say goodbye to the best teachers, administrators and students in the district. Why would they stay around? Would you?

These folks aren't reformers, they're utopian idealists, eager to make the biggest school district in El Paso County into an experimental laboratory. That's why Schuck and the national educational right are pouring money into the board races.

None of the money folks has kids in D-11, or even lives in the district. They'd never use their own children as lab rats. But they're happy to use ours -- and if the whole lunatic scheme goes down in flames, they'll walk away.

But for those of us who live in the district, that's not an option. We have jobs, house payments, kids in school, neighborhoods we like, networks of friends and acquaintances. We can't just get outta Dodge. We're stuck.

And, just maybe, we're screwed. Because if the insurgent "reformers" take power, the consequent upheaval in D-11 will have one absolutely predictable effect: It'll decrease property values.

Ask any real estate broker whether the perceived quality of a school district affects real estate values, and he or she, astonished at such a dumb question, will tell you yes. Emphatically, yes!

The last time a Colorado school district was made into a site for social/educational experimentation, the results were disastrous.

In Denver, a generation ago, the courts ordered district-wide busing of school children to remedy what they saw as a persistent pattern of de facto racial discrimination. The problem was real; the remedy, inept.

Busing both created racial tension and accelerated middle-class flight to the suburbs. The lofty goals of the judiciary collided with the hard realities of people's lives. Most parents were devoted to their neighborhood schools, and fiercely resisted busing.

A suburban Republican, Frieda Poundstone, initiated the so-called Poundstone Amendment to the state constitution, which forbade cities to annex land without the consent of the owners of that land. It was designed to protect Denver's suburbs from busing.

Despite the good intentions of its proponents, decades of busing accomplished little but turmoil. And for many years, Denver property values stagnated.

So I hope we won't be seduced by the slickly packaged siren song of the insurgents, promising a new dawn for District 11.

This is no dawn. This is the fire.


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