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Columnist
Voters to blame, not board, for Metea mess
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/19/2008 12:14 AM

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Apparently miracles in the 21st century don't happen quite like they did in the old days.

As they say, the impossible takes a little longer.

But perhaps (nothing is ever certain in this one) the Metea Valley High School saga, which seemed to be a never-ending story, has come to an end -- appropriately thanks to a group of faithful believers. Thank you, St. John AME Church.

The ups and downs of the past week of Metea's short and volatile history included lots of time for talking with district parents, mostly during a particular spectacular event.

Over and over, the conversation touched on the idea that some blame our school board members for the delays and glitches that have plagued this project.

How short some memories are. If you blame the school board for not being able to buy the land they believed they could buy in 2006 for the price they hoped to buy it, perhaps you should look in the mirror. Did you vote in favor of the 2005 referendum request for land at Brach-Brodie?

If the 2005 referendum request had gone as all other District 204 referendums up until then went and passed, a beautiful new Metea Valley High School would be opening this fall on the Brach-Brodie land that some say they now want.

Naysayers contend the failure of that election proved the "true" feelings of the district and the school board hired consultants to "sell" the idea the following year.

I see it differently -- no surprise, I'm sure, to my many friends on the naysayer side.

The way I remember the 2005 referendum was that many people ignored it, didn't get it, weren't even completely sure what was going on. A strong anti-referendum group was created and was well organized.

The sleeping majority went away on spring break and returned to a Tuesday election with little else on the ballot.

If I had a penny for everyone who told me later, "I feel so badly that I forgot to vote, it never occurred to me it might fail," I'd no longer need a paycheck.

So, rather than blame the school board for the various things I've heard them blamed for, why not blame the voters for not approving the school when they were first given the chance?

Whatever extra costs the district has incurred since then are clearly the fault of the voters, not the school board. They just have to react to what is thrown at them, fair or not.

Personally, I'd like to thank them for sticking with the goal of a third high school and not capitulating to the very vocal minority, no matter their tactics.

Some still say we don't need a third high school. I guess that depends on what your definition of "need" is. If you value education, if you want the kids in our district to attend a much more desirably sized school -- the size of most of the high schools around us instead of a mammoth high school that is overcrowded -- then we need a new high school.

Consider this: Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 has 29,000 students and is finishing its fourth high school right now. Naperville Unit District 203 has 18,000 students and operates two high schools that have stayed full through ups and downs in enrollment trends.

Indian Prairie has 28,825 students in two schools.

Consider this as well: research on optimal sizes for high schools consider 600 to 900 students to be the ultimate size. "Large" is considered 2,500. More than 4,000? A size unfathomable to most in theory and no better in practice.

Much of this subject is a numbers game. The fact that Midwest Generation withdrew its offer just over a week ago to sell land to the district because the district was "divided," plays with strange numbers.

Estimates of people involved in the anti-Eola land, the Neighborhood Schools for Our Children group, hover between 200 and 1,000. Compare that to the 29,000 students and their families in the district and it's hardly a deep "divide."

In the next few days, I have high hopes for a couple of long-awaited improbable events: warmer weather and breaking ground for Metea Valley High School.