St. Paul superintendent just needs to hear ‘no’

/ 19 June 2012 / jennifer

Joe Soucheray, Pioneer Press, June 19, 2012 –

The St. Paul school super, Valeria Silva, stuck her elbow in the ribs of the school board the other day and asked them to find her $9 million when the district goes to the polls in November. The district — I see a large bearded figure with a robe and a crown — is seeking an eight-year renewal of its $646-per-pupil operating levy, and Silva wants that bumped by $175. Thus the $9 million increase for property taxpayers.

What does that even mean? We already pay more than $10,000 per pupil a year. These per-pupil operating levies are euphemistic for add-ons, stuff from the options list. Hey, give us another couple of hundred bucks a kid and we’ll throw in pencils.

Well, it’s not pencils this time on the options list. It’s technology, or “harnessing technology to individualized instruction.” I don’t know what that sounds like to you, but to me it sounds like “let’s buy everybody an iPad.”

No. How about no for a change? How about living within the means of your already astonishing, chest-thumping, holy-mackerel-of-a-whopper $655.8 million budget for the coming school year? You have enough and yet you keep coming to people who see the value of their homes in decline while their property taxes increase.

No. Or to echo Margaret Owen Thorpe’s letter to the editor in Tuesday’s Pioneer Press, “No. No. No. Is there any part of ‘no’ that Ms. Silva does not understand? The toy store is closed. Sorry. No more toys. Mommy is broke.”

These supers and their

acolytes live in a parallel universe, figuratively and literally. Have you ever seen a super? I mean, at the hardware store or the coffee shop or Target or the gas station? Silva’s predecessor, Meria Carstarphen, lived on Summit Avenue, near Fairview Avenue. That’s not exactly at the end of a lonely dirt road out in the country. I conducted exhaustive polls during her tenure and I never found a single person from that neighborhood who ever saw her.

I don’t know where Silva lives and it’s really none of my business. I do know that we paid to move her into town from Woodbury.

In other words, do the school officials ever mix with the people who pay the bills, or are they always surrounded by their own kind, bustling from meeting to meeting with the forward of them making a flying wedge for the super while their smartphones beep and sing in unison?

Silva put her hand out just as I was coming to the realization that we are feeding nearly every kid in town. I knew that we have been feeding kids for years through various programs that I naively assumed had targeted truly needy children who weren’t getting food at home.

I didn’t know that we are feeding everybody. Income doesn’t matter. That breakthrough is probably to accommodate self-esteem issues. The school district, acting in concert with St. Paul Parks and Rec, is feeding anybody who wants to eat, birth to 18 years old. In St. Paul, 28 rec centers are providing meals all summer long, breakfast, lunch, snack and supper, depending on the rec center.

After countless phone calls, I discovered that the so-called free food is federally funded through the Department of Agriculture and administered through the State Department of Education’s Food and Nutrition Service. Why, it’s free! No, it isn’t. Nothing is free. And if you are wondering why the state is feeding a kid at Hillcrest Recreation Center in Highland or at Linwood Recreation Center in Crocus Hill, you are also starting to have your eyes opened.

While we have not been paying attention, an entirely new government empire has grown out of whole cloth, the government nutrition empire, which wants to feed everybody, from Mac-Groveland to Dayton’s Bluff. I suppose there is the subtext of the government fighting obesity, but that is laughably preposterous, as it results in sending a kid to a playground to eat instead of playing baseball.

Like Silva blithely wanting $9 million for “technology,” “free food” is another bell or whistle from the options list that we can’t afford.

Joe Soucheray can be reached at jsoucheray@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5474. Soucheray is heard from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays in 1500ESPN.

http://www.twincities.com/stpaul/ci_20894928/joe-soucheray-st-paul-superintendent-just-needs-hear