Monday, March 04, 2002


"What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian Senate. And I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that man shall never be free (and it is blasphemy to believe it), that the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical."
--Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell

It may yet remain to be seen if the 2002 Wyoming State Legislature will truly bear comparison to the above named autocrats and aristocrats, but it would appear from bits of legislation that are gaily passing through one house or the other of this most august body that it has become a goal for its members – or at least those in the House, who recently passed House Bill 43 with a 49-1 vote (the NO came from Rep. Louie Tomassi-R-Lincoln/Sublette).

On this surface this bill, which treats in 57 steaming pages (engrossed copy) on the tender topic of school capital construction, looks reasonable, and has surely provoked in many a casual reader a response along the lines of "well at long last they're doing something!"

And doing something they most certainly are. Among the things they are doing:

1) Establishing a seven-person commission, only one of whom has been directly elected (that being the State Superintendent of Public Instruction [and let me just stick in one little additional editorial comment on this score: thank goodness for term limits]), one member of the state board of education (so okay, he or she is sort of elected), and five gubernatorial appointees with "expertise" in building, etc.

So far not so bad; we seem to create commissions and fund studies all the time nowadays. Much easier than actually dealing with problems directly. But guess what: this isn't just another advisory board, because among other things, HB 43 would empower it to (text condensed from the actual bill):

(1) Adopt policies, standards and guidelines for the comprehensive assessment of school buildings, school district facility plans (and review and certify each district's plans)

(2) Develop policies and criteria for use in determining renovation, replacement or discontinuation of buildings

(3) Enter into construction or renovation project agreements, as appropriate, with school districts to select professionals for a project, review and approve project plans and specifications, review and approve project changes and change orders, establish establish payment schedules involving state funds and take all other necessary steps to ensure construction or renovation project management and to review and approve the process for approval of the completed project, with assurances that the commission is not responsible nor liable for compliance with construction or renovation project schedules or completion dates.

Getting a little creepy already, isn't it? And we're only on page six! And we've taken how much autonomy away from our locally elected school boards again?

But of course there is more. The commission will also be empowered to develop criteria for making enhancements to existing buildings, determining what buildings are "surplus," disposing of old buildings, establish prototypes for buildings for uniformity (I can't argue with that much, I guess, except that it is buried in all of this other muck), and develop criteria for approving and acquiring building sites (again, not horrible, but I'd still not rather have this in place if it means having all of this other crap with it).

AND, for those times when these poor little commissioners to be named later get to feeling like the legislators who dreamed them up, those same legislators who cry "study" every time someone asks even a simple yes or no question and will soon, no doubt, feel the need to hire consultants to tell us what kind of weather we're having, there is this tidbit:

"The commission may contract with appropriate expertise and professionals in administering this act and performing duties imposed under this act."

I'm sure many of these will come from California, just like the geniuses who brought us the school finance bill.

I won't even get into the creation of another salaried papa bureaucrat, along with a staff of baby bureaucrats, to handle the day-to-day minutiae the commissioners can't or won't. I rant about that stuff all the time and don't want to bore you more than I already have.

But I can't let this bit pass without comment: "If a building owned by a district meets the applicable standards under this subsection for use by the district to educate students and was previously used for the purpose of educating students, no municipal or county zoning requirements shall be construed or applied so as to prevent the district from using the building for the purpose of educating students," which looks to me like a wholly unnecessary swipe at the authority of municipal governments and also suggests that there's not a lot that could stand between your houses, Saratoga, and the development of a full-on swine pen behind the high school if the school feels like putting it there for the purpose of educating students.

In addition, it requires all school districts to file a comprehensive long-range facility management and development plan with the state, a plan written to minute state standards and sure to take up much extra time and effort simply to render it into proper bureaucratese, which no doubt will be much more important than the actual contents of the plan. Once these plans are filed, they must be updated every five years and will be enthusiastically micromanaged by the commission and its senior staff member.

What does this all boil down to? A loss of local control, of course, to protect us from the no doubt well intentioned fumblings and bumblings of the dunderheads we local yokels choose to govern our school districts. In matters of school building repair and construction, they are to be lobotomized, turned into a mere rubber stamping authority on what this new state commission decides is best for us.

Look - I'll take a leap here and say that I'm one of the few people even remotely associated with this web page, let alone living in this area, who has actually been to a school board meeting in the last several years. Until very recently I attended their meetings every month, and since it was my job to tell the rest of you what happened there, I paid very close attention indeed to what they did, what they said, what they were planning for and how they were going to make their plans reality.

Now, it's true that I disagreed a lot with some of the decisions they made and did so very loudly. But at least I respected their right and their duty to make them, and I still do. I was and still am able to go down the street to a regular public meeting and watch most of the process by which their decisions are been made, and can make comment on them to people whom I know personally and whose priorities I understand. I know their timetables, their budgets, their procedures. I know the staff members who are "making it so" after the board adjourns.

And I know for a very real fact that at least the members of Carbon County School District No. 2's Board of Trustees have been paying very close attention to the state of the school buildings under their care, and have been fixing whatever they can – i.e. it's not like local officials are blowing off or incompetently carrying out their responsibilities, necessitating this drastic step on the part of state government which will be taken if HB 43 passes.

Of course, said passage is not yet a done deal. The bill sailed through the house with essentially no opposition, but has yet as of this writing to be acted upon by the senate. There is, therefore, still a chance to urge that this thing be tossed out with the other trash. We can write to or talk to or e-mail or otherwise share our opinions with our senators and see if they listen... and when we do, let us remind them of something else that Jefferson said:

"[It is a] happy truth that man is capable of self-government, and only rendered otherwise by the moral degradation designedly superinduced on him by the wicked acts of his tyrant." --Thomas Jefferson to M. de Marbois, 1817.