Storm Lake school officials asked for opinions on a planned new wall honoring donors, and at the risk of offending absolutely everyone as usual, I’ll give one.
I realize there are some people who only will give to a project because they want the recognition, preferably carved in granite and gold with diamond sparkled for all time. I get it, it’s nice to be recognized for the good deeds you have done. Others go the other direction. Every fund drive I’ve been involved with in Storm Lake has people who prefer their anonymity.
It’s not the money for this wall so much, as it is the principle.
It costs thousands of bucks to put people’s names all over the wall. While that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the new auditorium we built, or the grand piano donors have made possible, to most taxpayers in the Storm Lake district, $7 grand is still a considerable chunk of change.
They pay taxes to educate children, not to honor wealthy donors. School funding should go to the classroom, shouldn’t it?
Now you could argue that a donor wall is a necessary investment, because it might encourage people to make sizable donations in the future if their name isn’t up on that glorious wall yet, so students would benefit in the long run. You’d have a point, too.
But I’d hate to think that we’ve reached the point where the only reason the most fortunate people or companies in our community would care about helping education is to make themselves look good, or to compete to see who is more generous than who.
It would be tough to be in the school board’s shoes here. What criteria are they going to set to put names on this wall - do you have to give $100, or $1,000, or $10,000? You can’t put everybody on - at some point having additional engraving done would cost more than the smaller amounts you are taking in.
If you build that wall, I guarantee, someone is just going to just miss the cut, and end up feeling bad, when they should be proud for their role in helping.
As a couple of the board members worried, that hundo that someone gave probably represents a much greater sacrifice for them than the thousands that a very wealthy person or business forked over. When you start trading recognition for generosity, it is very hard to be fair and to keep people satisfied.
And if you are only going to recognize big donors who may give one time, you may well discourage all those beautiful people who pony up smaller amounts, but come through every darn time they are asked by every student organization and cause. All those modest donations add up, too, and it would be sad if they felt they were overlooked.
The reality today is that big projects cost vast amounts, and we all can understand the concept behind something like a negotiated naming gift for a singular donation that can improve life for many.
But it’s also possible to detract from what you accomplish by throwing plaques all over it. Nobody wants a well-designed project to end up looking like a NASCAR racer covered in ads.
Giving to schools is a good investment. Businesses depend on being able to find well-educated people to hire in the future. All of us depend on our communities having the best possible minds to lead, teach, heal, build, perform into the future.
You help a school in whatever way you can, from writing a check toward band uniforms to reading to a kindergarten class once a month or joining the mentor program, because we have all been benefitted somewhere, some time, from a school or a great teacher. Life, we know, requires us to give a little back. That’s how it works. You don’t mess with karma.
Plaques and engravings are nifty and nice, but it’s not what motivates us, or at least it shouldn’t be.
The district already paid for an impressive plaque for the dedication of the school, with the names of all the local leaders and such, and everyone is okay with that, that’s standard practice for big projects. The bricks outside engraved with school foundation donors’ names are a nice touch, and there’s room for everyone who wants their name or a memorial around the school to still get in on that. Will they last forever? No, but they’ll likely endure as long as we will.
Those thousands of dollars the district is thinking of spending on a wall could buy computers, library books, classroom materials or other stuff for students to use, and students are our mission.
I would hope that, confronted with choice, no one would rather have a school spend money on honoring them, that could be used in the classrooms. Think of it this way, your gift kind of paying off twice this way. Where’s your thanks? Look at the kids walking in and out of those doors every day. There it is.
The school board is in a no-win spot here. They’ll be criticized if they spend money on this wall, and they will be criticized for snubbing the hand that feeds them if they don’t.
Maybe this column is a way out. Blame the media. Feel free to address those angry letters here, it won’t be the first or the last time.
We’ll donate a full page to list all the donors the school would like, if that helps. There are other possibilities - people can certainly be recognized in the programs for various school events without any extra outlay of public money. You could print the names of donors each year on poster paper, frame it and put it in the lobby with very little cost.
Lastly, we don’t want to sound ungrateful here. On behalf of the community, thank you to all those who give in so many different ways toward education in Storm Lake. No wall could express how much you mean to us all.