Community needs to continue committee's efforts

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By The Staff

No one can fault Ron Etienne; he worked hard to get the public involved in discussions about improvements needed in Tell City's aging junior-high and high-school buildings. His efforts in that regard began when, in late 2006, the schools superintendent launched processes to get those improvements started.

Members of the public began appearing at school-board meetings. The first among them stood up to commend Etienne and the school board for taking action that could restore pride in the schools and the city.

Others spoke out later, opposing the planned work as misfocused and cost-ineffective. A battle of petitions ensued, and those contesting the proposed work, which included some new construction at Tell City High School, brought it to a halt.

Nearly a year has gone by - and with it the period during which any work described in the original plans was prohibited - is nearing its expiration. Over the last several months, a committee featuring members from both sides has been working to identify and prioritize needs in the aging school buildings.

While each of the committee's members was asked to go through the junior-high and high schools and look for problems, their mission was not to fix the problems.

According to an executive summary of their work, they were given the following instructions:

Make sure your discussions and decisions are student-centered

Remain objective in your observations and go from being individually to committee-minded

Report findings from your visits in priority order

Come to consensus on the findings

Selected by the school board, the committee includes parents, teachers, maintenance staff and community members without children in the school system. The latter category represents an important part of the community not known to attend many school-board meetings. They are the school-district residents who help pay the bills, but receive no direct benefit.

The committee found problems in both buildings. No one has suggested they'd be any better or worse at that task than those who'd already pointed to the energy-inefficient windows, rain-stained ceiling tiles or any of the other hundreds of issues impeding our children's education.

But each of them went into the buildings as representatives not of just the school corporation, but of the community at large. It was in that role they met later to consolidate their findings with those of the other members.

"After consensus was reached," the executive summary explains as if it were a simple flip of a switch, "we asked for volunteers to present and begin preparation for the final presentation.

That presentation occurred at a special school-board meeting Feb. 29. As reported in Thursday's News, the group identified several immediate needs and relegated everything else, with high- , medium- and low-priority designations, to a master plan they agreed was a higher need than any of the individual issues.

The board voted at the same meeting to employ a consulting firm to develop that plan. Now that that's under way, it's important to stop and look back at what has happened and what's yet to come.

For the brief moment in time when a blue and a yellow petition were circulating throughout the community, the question, "what should we do about our schools?" divided our normally quiet community. Most significant among the committee's achievements, we believe, is that members on two sides of an issue came together and found things they could agree on.

Also significant is that we - this community - are on our way toward having an intelligent plan in place that will prevent the last year from recurring. Never again, we hope, will someone have to awaken us to the fact we've long neglected what should be a crown jewel of our community.

Each broken pane, each toilet inaccessible to a wheelchair-bound student, each collapsing ceiling section is as important to preserving that source of pride as any other problem. Each must be checked off, in turn, from a list drawn up to move us ever closer to having top-notch facilities.

Etienne and school-board members each thanked the committee, but urged them not to let their presentation signal the end of their involvement. We, too, urge its members and everyone else in the school district: Get and stay involved. A good first step would be to attend school-board meetings. The next one will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the high-school auditorium.

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