Keep this to yourself because I don’t want people to consider me slow-witted. I must confess, though, that my opinions have yet to form on whether St. Joseph should have one, two or three public high schools.
True, the audacity of just thinking about closing one or more of the schools intrigues me. The boldest of these strokes would find all three shuttered, to be replaced by a single uber-school.
This in a city that opened two new elementary schools in 2014 after four decades of milking the physical inventory.
History can be cruel to the intrepid. Plans that erase school names, mascots, academic and sporting achievements ... those most certainly encounter pushback. The truck of the tangible runs headlong into the subcompact of the theoretical.
Appealing for open minds might be the toughest thing an elected official has to do.
At the national level, of course, this proves barely a chore, so much of the broader discourse being aimed at an audience already disposed to a particular point of view.
Federal issues have their fans with their own television networks that echo their own perspectives. So easy. Making a case to that group depends not on openness of thinking but steadfastness of belief.
At the local level, closest to the people being represented, officials can dare with proposals that don’t adhere to a narrow brand. Let the imagination fly. Build the case with numbers.
Thus, the fearless need not appear reckless. Instead, one idea can come to the public with an element of “here’s something for consideration,” letting praise and slander rain down as consensus forms.
View the school restructuring idea as “pie-in-the-sky,” as some inevitably will, but it actually has a foundation of hard truth.
Look at this as of a piece with another idea that St. Joseph voters will decide. A committee reviewing the municipal charter put forth a recommendation that district representation be eliminated on the City Council, with all council members henceforth running at-large.
When the council got a crack at this idea, it would not go so far, opting instead to put on the ballot a reduction of district slots from five to four.
The common thread between this and the eventual school decision can be found in these numbers.
Between the 2010 census and a 2018 federal projection, the population of St. Joseph decreased by 1 percent. During this same period, the overall population of Missouri rose by 2.3 percent.
These facts have a margin-of-error flimsiness to them, even though it’s hard to make a case for St. Joseph’s population vitality with whatever leeway might be allowed.
Of greater weight, look at the trend of nearly 50 years. Since 1970, Missouri’s population rose by 31 percent. Over the course of those years, St. Joseph grew by 4.4 percent.
Folks can make whatever case they want about community size. Retaining a more intimate size might be favorable to some, might preserve the community’s character and might actually serve the purpose of civic well-being.
Yet a city with even modest growth — not extraordinary, not profound — would allot no time for rejiggering its council composition, would never approach its citizens with a sure-to-inflame plan to wipe clean the blackboard of high school heritage.
Growth disguises any number of shortcomings. For St. Joseph, the calculations must be more precise. Leaders have a duty to assess the situation of those they lead. A stagnancy of population growth can not be ignored.
No matter what you make of these proposals, they reflect the times and this place.