We'll be judged on tax vote results

Published 12:58 am Monday, December 1, 2003

By Staff
Last month, parishioners of First Baptist Church of Brewton had a local hit on their hands with their production of Judgement House, a play which showed the consequences of several characters' actions as they moved from this life to the next.
The church itself became a series of stages, with scenes depicting decisions and their consequences playing out in different rooms.
This enabled visitors to watch the course of the players' lives unfold by taking only a few short steps, moving quickly from one scene to the next.
It was a simple but brilliant idea -- compressing time so that actions taken today and their outcomes could exist side-by-side. Not surprisingly, may of those who attended Judgement House described the experience as sobering, eye-opening.
Of course, Judgement House dealt with the most important decisions a person makes -- some of them matters of life and death -- and how they are viewed by God after we die.
But the Judgement House format could easily be applied to any weighty decision, be it one made by an individual or a group.
How interesting it would be to take that idea and apply it to so many of the actions we take, compressing time as Judgement House did so that we could see, within seconds of each other, the decisions we make and the impact they have on ourselves and others down the line. The ability to do so would no doubt alter the way we approach many of the choices we're faced with, both large and small.
Escambia County is currently facing a choice tailor-made for such a format. The decision we make as a group on Dec. 9 will have consequences as far-reaching and impactful as any the voting public here is likely to ever undertake. The choice itself is simple -- we will vote to renew an existing three mill tax and implement an additional 10 mill tax to support local education, which is suffering due to massive cuts in funding from the state.
We will do this -- or we won't. I'm on record as thinking the county should vote in favor of this tax, and provide local money to keep the schools strong in the face of cuts that have been made too quickly and too deeply for them to keep operating at acceptable levels.
What are the consequences of not voting in favor of the tax? In a nutshell, extracurricular activities like band and sports could be lost, facilities could close, teachers and other education-related personnel could lose their jobs.
But that's too clinical an assessment. It doesn't speak to the toll that will only show up years from now, doesn't give us the opportunity for a "Judgement House" view, where decisions and their consequences exist in the same time and place. And, short of our imaginings, we won't have the benefit of that sort of view.
But it never hurts to exercise the imagination. In doing so, here are a couple of scenes I came up with, ones that might appear in a "Judgement House" production based on this vote, and its ultimate impact on young lives:
Scene one: A young man we'll call William is a superior athlete. Though he applies himself, his grades are only average, certainly not great -- his genius is on the field, not in the classroom. He comes from a family that is not particularly well-off, so William's best chance at a college education and a better life lies with the scholarship opportunities afforded athletes of his caliber. But to get within reach of those opportunities he has to play, has to develop the abilities college scouts and coaches are looking for.
What happens if most of the county votes "no" on Dec. 9? Worst case scenario, athletic programs at William's school are cancelled, and he never gets the chance to develop those abilities. The college education he needed for a better life isn't there. William's a good kid, with his head screwed on straight, so he lives a decent, productive life. But with only a high school education, he struggles where he might otherwise not have, is less prepared to deal with life's hardships.
He grows into a man who holds his head high until the day he dies, but at times has to remind himself to do so.
Scene two: A young girl we'll call Jennifer is brighter and more talented than anyone around her has ever realized, and certainly more than anyone has ever told her. Her home life isn't the kind the luckiest of us have enjoyed, with support and encouragement forthcoming when it is needed. The potential that Jennifer has shown has gone unnoticed, and will probably continue to go unnoticed.
Without the approval and encouragement of important adults in her life, Jennifer will likely never unlock the abilities inside her. But this scene isn't as much about Jennifer as it is about Mrs. Johnson, the young teacher who got into education because she loves kids and wants to help them discover their talents. Mrs. Johnson is the missing piece in Jennifer's life -- an adult who cares, and whose confidence and encouragement will spur Jennifer now and for years to come. Mrs. Johnson will be the person Jennifer looks back on when she graduates from college on her way to a great career no one else in her life had ever imagined for her.
Except none of this ever happens. There's no local funding, the schools continue shrinking to stay within budget, and Mrs. Johnson loses her job before she and Jennifer ever cross paths. Jennifer's dreams don't exactly die, because they never really lived to begin with. But somewhere down the line, when she looks back on her life, she'll know on some level she could have been more, done more.
She'll never have a clue, however, how much more, or how close she came during her formative years to meeting the person who could have made a difference for her.
The people in the "scenes" are, of course, entirely fictional. But they represent realities that will come about, impacting countless lives for years to come, if something isn't done to help fund education in Escambia County.
How many more such scenes could be imagined, written about? Potentially, as many as there are children in Escambia County's schools. I wish I had more space here, but certainly not because these things are fun to put in print.
It's been the order of the day for many over the past few months to compare the cost of educating a child to the cost of warehousing the adult they'll become in a prison somewhere. But what shouldn't be lost is that kids who border on taking the path of least resistance aren't the only ones who'll lose out if there are fewer teachers, coaches and structured activities to help guide them in the right direction.
There are plenty of good kids, the "Williams" and "Jennifers" of this county, who'll never be incarcerated no matter how the county votes, at least not in any real prison. But they'll also never be as free as they might otherwise have been, and that's equally sad.
The vote on Dec. 9 is the county's chance to keep those sorts of scenes from playing out. Voters here have it within their power to create a "Judgement House" scenario with more lives fully led than lives simply walked through without fanfare.
I know the arguments against this position. The big one: The school system's already wasting money -- why give them more to waste? In my short time here I've come to believe two things I think apply in the face of this kind of thinking: 1) The school officials here take seriously enough their responsibility to the community to be good stewards of what we give them, and 2) This funding crisis has allowed them to stare into an abyss, and learn any lessons they needed to learn about the importance of money and how it is handled.
And it's not worth risking the future of one child in this county to make a point that's already been made.
Use your imagination between now and Dec. 9. Think about the consequences of this vote in more than just "soundbite" terms, more than just numbers. And think about more than what a "yes" vote might mean to the county and its children. Stop and consider what a "no" vote may be denying them.
-John Dilmore Jr. is publisher of The Brewton Standard. He can be reached by e-mail at john.dilmore@brewtonstandard.com

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