Let's visualize, not penalize

My intentions were to start the week’s edition of Beside the Point this way…

I was ready to go twelve full rounds on the “decision” that the Fort Madison school board made regarding sharing athletic programs with area schools.
But, as is often the case after we get revved up about something – maturity sets in. 
This week was the busiest week I’ve had in terms of texts, emails, phone calls, and grab-the-elbow conversations with people around the community - hands down the busiest.
Those conversations, in stark contrast to what you may be thinking, have been mostly level-headed. But at some point it all led to this — we have to do what’s best for our student-athletes.
There are extremely valid points on both sides of this issue. And if you follow the rumor mill (with media riding in the backseat instead of shotgun where it belongs), let’s hope any intervention by the state exercises the same patience and maturity. 
That’s a crap shoot for sure.
I wanted this piece to focus on the process, and it will. But I have to say there’s something else stuck in my craw here and it’s going to take patience, good-faith, more maturity, and a look to the future to get it out.
These kids like playing together. And those relationships are on the chopping block.
I don’t know every single relationship that happens on the courts and fields of Fort Madison High School, but I’d like to share with you some visuals.
At an invitational track meet not even two weeks ago in West Burlington, I was shooting Caden Barnes swirling in the sunlight and letting fly with the shot put. He could be as good as his brother Elijah at the University of Iowa.
After shooting some photos, I was walking away and I saw Fort Madison’s Ike Thacher pick up Holy Trinity’s Luke Hellige and take him to the ground in a wrestling move. Ike, pretty good with a hip toss if I do say so, had  Luke in a pickle and the HTC sophomore was laughing as he tried to wiggle free.
Stories around Fort Madison students going to the houses of Holy Trinity students and sitting up with them as they recover from knee injuries and vice versa. These kids grew up together, they just go to different schools in the district because of family choice.
The not-so-well documented Hellige-Thacher affair happened before any of this shared-program stuff hit the fan. But it hit me at that moment how great shared programs are. I thought that walking away. What a neat moment. These kids are neighbors and friends first. They're also great teammates. Xander Wellman and Jacob Pothitakis, Henry Graham and Henry Wiseman, Mary Kate Bendlage and Camille Kruse…Fort Madison and HTC, viciously competitive, but brothers and sisters at the same time. I hear the girls wore blue headbands in Thursday’s soccer game to symbolize their solidarity.
What are we giving up here? Equity? Time? Ego? At what point do we realize this is a jab at the state for a law moving public funds to private schools. The argument that taxes are propping up religion through education is legitimate, but something for legislators and courts to sort through.
Using it as the “last straw” mentality or the line drawn in the sand doesn’t make sense when stacked up against what we, and those kids, could possibly be losing.
This fall's decision to end sharing with HTC for football makes sense. Football is a sport of warriors, but David and Goliath was a phenomenon literally of biblical proportions. I would never diminish the tremendous growth of the Fort Madison football program that culminated in a playoff game against Waverly-Shell Rock last fall.
I hedge on saying this because, at the end of the day, you gotta beat the guy across from you, and any FM coach will tell you that.
I was quietly hoping for a running clock to keep someone from getting hurt. Playing in 3A will still have its challenges and great football teams. Willliamsburg comes to town this year. But this will give Fort Madison a chance to showcase how good they’ve become - and are becoming. The BED numbers without HTC put the Bloodhounds in a lower class where they can have better success. And that’s saying something considering they made the playoffs in 4A. It's not like they didn't earn their stripes against those bigger schools.
But we’re not aware of any other class impacts of keeping HTC or Central Lee numbers in shared programs. Nothing else gets better or worse if the shared programs continue as far as class assignments.
If you look at the statement released from the FMCSD board on Tuesday, this is clearly political as it cited the governor’s ESA law. It also says they must protect the students of the district. 
Has anyone polled student-athletes to see if they would sacrifice playing time for enhanced chances of success. It might be interesting to get their feedback. I mean if it really is an issue of HTC student-athletes taking playing time from FMHS kids, maybe we should’ve asked them.
This isn’t that. And we know it. 
I’ve heard conversations about equity for years now. It cannot be about equity. There’s never been equity in funding for public and private schools. Private schools are private for a reason and they sacrifice the public funding to be able to inject religion into the education process.
Public schools get money from families that go to private schools through property tax, but don’t have to provide for those students if the families choose that school over the public system.
A city swimming pool rarely, if ever, makes money nor should it. It’s a loss fund for any city, but they provide it so the community has a place to swim. A city shouldn’t make money off that. The only equity is what I call ‘chase equity’ where you chase revenue a little here and there to make the deficit spending a little easier to swallow.
The decision made by the FM board is something that is also hard to swallow from the perspective of open meetings law.
Many people have asked me if the board really violated open meetings laws. “Are you 100% sure?”
Well…yes. And here’s how we explain this. 
The board statement read, “At this time, the board has decided to allow all current sharing agreements to expire at the end of the athletic seasons for the 2022-23 school year.” (emphasis added).
Several attempts to get an answer to that question from Board President Josh Wykert were unsuccessful. There’s been no explanation of how a decision was made by the board when two board members were unaware of a decision being made. 
Board members Paul Wilkerson and Carol Ross said they were unaware that a decision had been made. Wilkerson said there was a briefing for the board on the issue, but no decision was made at that time. So again, how did this singular board made up of seven elected officials decide anything, if two members didn’t know a decision had taken place?
I’ve approached many officials about this specific issue and all are saying they have trouble with the lack of transparency.
But words matter. Just like “all current sharing agreements”. We’re hearing that non-hosted agreements like swimming at BHS may not be included in the decision. Per the statement, unless the board is planning another decision, those agreements would be included in the 'all', like all other shared programs. But the statement also said they didn’t plan on putting the shared agreements on a future agenda, so how would they decide to reaffirm the non-hosted agreements?
The board clearly acted here by deciding. How did the action take place? There was no vote on record. No action by a public board can take place without a vote of said board in a public format. No vote can take place in closed sessions. The board must come back into open session and vote on the action.
They took action, they didn’t vote. They violated the trust of the voters of the district, and we believe not only violated the spirit of open meetings laws but indeed the words.
A decision is action. If there was no vote, then there was no action. The transitive property of addition tells us if a=b and b=c, then a=c. No vote means no action. A decision is an action therefore no vote, no decision. If Pythagoras or whomever, can see that, so can we.
This needs to be solved at the local level, but I fear the state is going to solve it for us. Is that in anyone’s best interest?
Open dialogue. Talk to each other. Stop emailing and texting — talk to each other. The gold is under the mud, folks.
With regard to mud, I finished some landscaping in my yard this weekend and played in a lot of mud. I don’t know, they say that mud is for children, but there’s something, oh, mature, about working the earth. Then digging it out of your fingernails, but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor of Pen City Current and can be reached at
Beside the Point, Fort Madison Community School District, shared program, Holy Trinity Catholic, board of directors, Josh Wykert, students, student-athletes, teams, Governor Reynolds, ESA law, Education Savings Accounts, Dept. of Education, Iowa, news, sports, varsity, Pen City Current


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