I realize this probably seems like an oddly-timed post, seeing as it's June, and it's not an election year. Bear with me. It will all make sense in the end.
We live in a teeny little school district. Four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school; that's it. The schools are pretty small, too. Our elementary school only has about 400 students. We love it.
Last month a special election was held here. A lot of the ballot items had to do with education. Our neighbor, Portland Public Schools, had a much-publicized bond up for election, one that was guaranteed to raise taxes if it passed.
Our own little district also had a bond on the ballot. We were hoping for money to build a new middle school - something desperately needed, since the current one was built to house 600 students and now houses upwards of 800 - and update the four elementary schools in terms of safety and technology. It was set to replace an existing bond that was about to expire. This meant that, unlike the PPS bond, it wouldn't raise taxes. However, due to the size of our district, this bond didn't get anywhere near the kind of attention the PPS bond did.
Several of my friends were very active in spreading the word. They sent emails, passed out fliers, made phone calls, knocked on doors, and sat at a booth outside the Farmer's Market. One good friend is not an American citizen, and therefore can't vote, but she still put in countless hours spreading the word because her children attend school in this district and she cares about the quality of their education. While our family didn't do that much work, we made sure to hang a sign in our window, put a sticker on our car, and wear our "I'm voting yes!" buttons constantly. The girls were all fired up about the election, wearing their buttons to school and discussing it with their friends. It was a great civics lesson in action.
By the time the polls closed on Election Day, the bond was up by 17 votes. The next morning, the count was up by 27 and we were celebrating our victory.
And that's when the roller coaster ride began. The count bounced up and down by just a few votes as the few remaining ballots were counted. We were down by 1, then up by 2, then down by 2, then up by 1. Suddenly we were in the news. Rarely is an election so close.
During this time I became frustrated and, yes, I'll admit, angry as I learned of people I knew who either hadn't voted at all, or who had voted "no". Of course, I understand and firmly believe that it's everyone's right to vote however they see fit, but now I wish I had been more proactive, had stepped up and made phone calls, canvassed in the rain, or just mentioned it more often in casual conversation. Too many people didn't understand the difference between our bond and Portland Public's. Too many people still thought their taxes were going to go up if they voted "yes" and therefore voted "no" (although I personally believe that an increase in taxes is worth the investment in educating a community's children, but that's perhaps a post unto itself.) Too many people fail to see that if you're not part of the solution in making our public schools better, you become part of the problem.
The final count came in today: after a recount, the bond passed by 6 votes. That's it, just 6. Vicki will probably not get to enjoy the new middle school, but now I know my other two girls will, and that all our community schools will be safer places for the children who attend them.
This experience has been an eye-opener in so many ways. I have always believed that it's important to be an educated voter, to understand the issues before I vote so I understand the true impact of my vote, but now I believe that even more firmly. My girls have had an opportunity to see what happens when a community rallies together over something they believe in, and what can happen if not enough people become involved. I can assure you that at least Vicki has become motivated to stand up and speak out for causes she believes in. This is why she and I will be spending tomorrow, and several Saturdays through the summer, helping to raise money for Outdoor School. And I can't (and won't) complain, because she has become a citizen in her community, and has learned that if you want something to happen, you have to make it happen. What a life lesson!
And lastly, there's this: if you never believed before now that your single little vote could make a difference, well, I'm telling you, friends: it's time to become a believer.
Six little votes just made a world of difference for the children in my community.