Catching 22 hard places

Perhaps you are familiar with the term “catch 22”. “Catch 22” is the term used for a situational trap from which the person involved cannot escape without harm. The term was popularized by the 1961 Joseph Heller novel of the same name. The phrase “stuck between a rock and a hard place” describes a similar situation.

I originally thought to myself no one likes being in a catch 22, and I believe that I am correct in this assumption. There are, however, people who chose to place themselves in a catch 22 as a career. These are the people that choose public service as an occupation.

I am sympathetic to the plight these individuals face each day. Trying to make the most beneficial decisions for the greatest amount of people at any given time in a wide and varying range of scenarios these people move along suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to make their communities a better place.

The select group that I am most sympathetic toward is that group called school administrators. The differing opinions in any community decision can clash, most times in unexpected ways, but you throw children into the mix and navigating the waters of administration jumps to an entirely new level.

On the opposing side I have very little sympathy for those people that create a catch 22 for others to figure out.

Such is the case of Joki versus the Meridian School District.

Russell Joki is a former superintendent of the Nampa School District, but has grandchildren that attend school in the Meridian district. Joki attempted to sue over a dozen school districts for charging students fees. Joki claims it cost an extra $100 per year for his grandchild to attend school. It is Joki’s contention the fees are burdensome and unconstitutional.

“It’s discriminatory. I think parents are sick and tired of this. They expect a free public education. To have to open their wallets, when they take kids to public school, to register their kids for public course is a violation of the Idaho Constitution,” Joki told the Associated Press.

Joki was also seeking to have the case certified as a class action so that every K-12 student in the state could be named as a plaintiff. Fourth District Judge Richard Greenwood did not certify the case as a class action suit. In fact Greenwood dismissed 12 of the school districts and state superintendent Tom Luna as defendants saying Joki had no material claim of harm as a basis to sue other school districts, but left Meridian as the sole defendant.

Joki told the Associated Press he is disappointed by the judge’s decision but will continue to press forward.

Here is the catch 22 of the situation: the state constitution does guarantee every child in the state a free education through 12th grade. It does not mention what that education should consist of; rather the constitution delegates the detail work of setting required curriculum to the Idaho Department of Education. Unfortunately state funding has not matched the cost for schools to teach the requirements and offer the bells and whistles many of us experienced in school. This would be the “rock” part of the equation.

The “hard place” is that many parents expect their children to receive those extras. Most people want their children to experience the things they did as children. These are things like field trips, art classes, assemblies and such. All of these things cost money, but again most of the money that is coming in is being used to cover the basic requirements.

This is not to lay the fault of a declining education system singularly at the feet of parents; parents should demand these experiences for their children. Think back on your favorite memory from your school years. The memories that stick out for a large number of people are the special experiences; field trips, a special science experiment or something of that sort. I am guessing any one of us would be hard pressed to find someone that thinks back to a standard lecture on quadratic formula usage as a favorite school memory.

I am not familiar with Joki’s resume but just about every school administrator I have ever come into contact with has a progression through the ranks on their resume. Most start as teachers and work their way up. Most administrators are painfully aware of the monetary situation facing school districts statewide.

I believe that Joki has also forgotten or chosen to ignore the compromise student fees represent. Schools are like any other public institution: they have contingency funds and functions to accommodate people that cannot afford the outside charges. If Joki’s grandchildren are so disadvantaged there are ways to keep them involved, but there is a need to offset the extra costs. This is usually accomplished by stout management and shared expense coverage.

The thing I find most out of sorts with Joki’s lawsuit is that it is an expense for these school districts. Joki is willingly narrowing the gap between that rock and the hard place by forcing these school districts to spend money on lawyers and not on keeping extracurricular costs at a minimum. The alternative result will be that the Meridian School District will have to silence the bells and whistles, no more art, theater, field trips, or sports.

The simple math is that it would be cheaper for Joki and the Meridian School District if he were to just pay for his grandchildren’s fees. But if you have paid attention to the budgeting debacles in the Nampa School District it is easy to see why this cost-benefit analysis has eluded Joki.

Most of us have picked careers and jobs that keep us out of a catch 22, but in choosing a career in education administration these people have volunteered to be constantly between the rock and hard place for the sake of making our children better people. For that we should be grateful, not eager to make their jobs a harder place.

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