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Francis Howell North seniors throw caps in the air

Francis Howell North seniors throw their caps into the air at the end of the graduation ceremony on the football field at Lindenwood University in St. Charles on June 2, 2013. Photo by J.B. Forbes jforbes@post-dispatch.com

April 3 was a sad day for me. Francis Howell, the school district I am privileged to serve, failed to gain the community’s support for Proposition Learn, a tax initiative that would have provided funding for programs and services essential to continuing our success and maintaining our ranking as one of the top-performing school districts in the state.

Why did it fail? I was told that we didn’t spend enough money to educate the community about the proposition, or that we spent too much money doing so. Our academic performance was either so high as to obviate the need for funding or not high enough to justify the increase. And, of course, like (apparently) every school district in the nation, we have too many administrators and pay our teachers too much.

These reasons, though conflicting and confusing, are perhaps not surprising. Public education, the bedrock upon which this great republic is built, is under constant criticism from the highest levels of government. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we are repeatedly told that our education system is failing. This has led to a loss of respect for the work we do.

This wasn’t always the case. Prior generations held education in high esteem. Families made great sacrifices so their children could be the first to attend and graduate from high school or, if so fortunate, from college. Now, a high school diploma is taken for granted and college education is commonplace. Teachers were once revered but are not now valued the same as other professionals, despite similar levels of education and training. Today, every aspect of our operations is scrutinized and deemed inefficient, wasteful or both.

I am not saying that school districts should not be held accountable to the public who support us. I only ask that we not be held to a higher standard of scrutiny than other companies from whom we buy goods and services. The price of gas, groceries or medical care may make for good conversation at the morning coffee klatch, but no one is writing to the president of the grocery chain with suggestions on how to improve the delivery system so as to shave a cent or two off the price of a gallon of milk.

At my recent six-month dental checkup, I had a full head X-ray performed. I didn’t ask if the machine used was competitively bid, or question why I now needed a full head X-ray when bite-mark X-rays used to suffice. I understood that the nature of dental care is changing and I trusted that my dentist was working to provide me a better level of care. I didn’t substitute my judgment for that of the professional to whom I entrusted my dental health.

I would argue that education is more important than dentistry and that the decisions we make as education professionals should be understood and respected the same as decisions made by other professionals.

Francis Howell has made significant changes in its expenditures to stave off the need for additional support. But at some point, it becomes impossible to do more with less, or to even do the same with current resources. We have reached that point.

And yet, our teachers and paraprofessionals, our custodial, maintenance and grounds personnel, our principals and administrators, come to work every day intent on making sure our students receive the best education possible. We know that the future of our country is in the hands of the young men and women in our care. The public school system has produced some of the brightest minds whose contributions have improved and forever changed our lives. It is our responsibility to ensure it continues to do so.

The cost of providing a quality education is high. The cost of not doing so is much greater.

Kevin F. Supple is the chief operating officer for the Francis Howell School District.