Stillwater: Why George Thole Must Go
There’s a bizarre theory going around these days among local parents, voters and Democrats in Stillwater. This theory says that George Thole has to be returned to the School Board again this election or the upcoming school levy will not be passed. I don’t know who started this rumor, for all I know it could have been started by Thole himself. What I do know is: even if the rumor is true, Thole should go. Voters who are interested in the future of the school district should do everything in their power to make sure that he doesn’t get in again.
Before I tell you why, let me tell you something about the man himself. There is probably no one in Stillwater who knows more about the School Board than George Thole. He cites thirty years of experience as a teacher and athletic coach; in the past he’s been a prominent and even militant advocate for the students, parents and teachers in District 834.
But these days Thole is doing the schools more harm than good. You see, Thole is a devout conservative. Back when the DFL was running things in St. Paul, we could afford to have a few devout conservatives on the School Board, whining about taxes, promising that taxes and fees and excessive spending would be lower if we voted the liberals out, moaning about how the schools would improve if only we voted in conservatives, bleating about how schools didn’t need all the tax dollars we were throwing at them—blah, blah, blah. In the past it didn’t hurt the schools to have a couple of conservatives on the board, whining away, because the Minnesota state government had a tradition of strong support for public education and backed up its rhetoric by providing state funding to local communities for their schools.
But now things have changed. St. Paul in particular, has changed. Conservatives now control the State House and the Governor’s Mansion and their policy has been to abandon the local communities and their schools by shifting the burden of funding from the state to the local communities. For years now Pawlenty and the Republicans have been cutting state funding to local school budgets and steadily shifting the burden for the schools from state taxes to local property taxes. Funding used to be 70% state-30% local; after the special session this year it’s 30% state-70% local. (That’s why Stillwater residents are looking at an 8% property tax hike, this year alone. And that doesn’t include what you’ll have to pay for a school levy, if that passes.) Pawlenty and GOP are abandoning the local communities and the public schools.
They want to see education privatized. Why? So that they don’t have to deal with teacher’s unions, so that they can eviscerate the taxation that supports public schools, and so that they can divert the huge income stream of public funding away from the public schools and into the private sector. This is the conservative “wet dream” that right wing politicians are working to realize in communities all over America.
And whether he understands it or not, George Thole has been helping to carry out this agenda. When Thole’s school board announced its cuts to services, programs, personnel and local school bus transportation, those cuts were accompanied by the stoic comments of Thole and other board members—sighs about the “tough economic situation,” etc. What they failed to talk about is the real reason why the school services were being cut at the same time your property taxes and fees were going up. It’s Pawlenty, stupid; it’s the Republican agenda, stupid.
What would a responsible school board official do? Do I really expect them to tell the voters that the district’s problems stem from Pawlenty and Republican policy, tell the voters that each and every week? No. I would expect that a responsible school board official would remind the voters of that every day. A responsible elected school board would re-name every cut they’re forced to make to schools and service, every locally funded expenditure they’re forced to lay out--name it after the state officials who made that cut or fee hike necessary. If you have to lay off personnel, introduce a resolution that the layoff be named “the Representative Mike Charron School Personnel Lay-Off.” If you are forced to cut school curriculum, call that the “State Senator Brian LeClair School Curriculum Cuts.”
Read it into the minutes, put it on record. Practically everything that the School Board does makes the front page of the local newspapers. In a sustained contest between the School Board and the local Republican hacks who support the cuts and local property tax hikes, the School Board would win. But before that can happen, the voters need to elect school board members who really will fight for the school district and its families, instead of conservative drones who seem so eager to bend over.