Falcon 49 School Bus Capitol Photo-Op: Serious About Tough Decisions Ahead?

There are plenty of gag April’s Fools news stories floating out there this morning (my wishful-thinking favorite so far is Edspresso’s “Obama Administration Flips on School Vouchers”). But confusing as it may be, this story is legit: The same Falcon District 49 I lauded for taking a step towards more productive spending, the same district my Education Policy Center friends recently visited for an innovation meeting — yes, even the same Falcon that inspired me to write about the Cookie Monster — is behind this bizarre stunt.

From this morning’s Colorado Springs Gazette:

The keys [of all 84 district buses] were delivered Thursday morning to lawmakers by District 49 school board members and officials who drove to Denver in a 51-bus convoy — in rush hour traffic —to protest statewide budget cuts….

“As a board, we feel we have to do something to support our kids and our staff,” [Board Secretary Tammy] Harold said. “We are totally dependent on state and federal funding.”

Yes, I’m young, but I have to say yesterday’s efforts were off-base. Lack of funding isn’t the problem per se. This is where it gets strange. Because I’ve already praised Falcon 49 for leading the way on taking major cost-saving steps to create a leaner model to improve student services in tighter budget times.

In case you were wondering (as I was), the article explains that the district is on Spring Break and more than $7,000 in private funds were raised so this activity wasn’t underwritten by taxpayer dollars. That’s good so far as it goes, but what did they hope to accomplish by using district buses for this kind of attention-grabbing stunt? At the very best, districts can only hope to limit the cuts in some small way. That’s just the fiscal reality.

For me, the real test will be how officials respond when the final state funding amounts are set. Will Falcon 49 follow the lead of some other districts and play more costly games, or will they face up to the challenging responsibility that lies ahead? Is the school bus Capitol photo-op a sign that district leaders are veering off track, or will they stay serious about the Innovation Plan as the going gets tough?

A lot of heads are scratching. But you can bet little Eddie will be watching.