Although boundary disputes are the point of departure for a lawsuit against the Salt Lake Board of Education, activists involved in the suit are more likely to speak about frustration, educational reform and their own heightened awareness of what's happening in the schools.
"There has been a lot of emotion over the boundaries, but there's a lot more to this than boundaries," Mike Beck said shortly after the lawsuit was filed. He is vice president of Citizens for Better Schools, the group raising funds to pay for the lawsuit.Make no mistake. The new boundaries are at the heart of the lawsuit. And it is essentially the group's lawsuit, despite the fact that Citizens for Better Schools isn't listed as a plaintiff. (he plaintiffs were chosen to represent geographical areas affected by the boundary changes.) Citizens raised the money and hired the attorney. Citizens also sent out a press release announcing the lawsuit when it was filed.
In January, the school board voted 4-3 to redraw the city's high school boundaries, sending ninth graders from Federal Heights and the Avenues to West High School and a large section of west-side students living in the Glendale area from West to East High School. The new boundaries were necessitated by the closing of South High.
No decisions have been made on the lawsuit yet. Attorneys presented oral arguments before U.S. District Judge David K. Winder Friday.
Citizens for Better Schools members say the lawsuit is only a step in what will become an ongoing march to improve the city's schools.
"I'm only interested in long-term solutions," said Beck.
Beck, who moved to Utah from Dallas last year, said the boundary issue has served as a catalyst that has sparked parental involvement. Once involved, the parents "realize how complacent they'd become," Beck said.
"I don't think any of Utah schools are terrific. I understand that they led the nation (cademically) a couple of decades ago, but I don't think that's true any more. Where you find good schools, you find involved parents and conscientious teachers. I don't think the parents, in the past, have been as involved as they should have been," he said.
The lawsuit is one way to push for reform, but it won't be the only way. The committee plans to actively work this fall for school board candidates who support its viewpoint. In the next two or three years, the committee plans to pick key items and then try to implement them.
The committee's birth - and its intention to sue the school board - were announced shortly after the boundary vote.
Committee members feel they have been unfairly maligned and that some have been painted as sore losers who are suing because they didn't get their way.
"I'm sure there are some people who feel that way. It isn't the premise of this group at all. We have a more high-minded purpose than that," said Arla Funk, a member of the organization's board of directors.
Arla Funk's children weren't directly caught in the boundary changes; they will go to East High School under any of the proposed boundary maps. But Funk also talks about reform - and frustration - when she describes her involvement.
"I think the things the board did were arbitrary. Many had an agenda before any public hearing. They heard the words, but they didn't hear what people were saying. I think that the decision the board made for the community was bad," she said.
She believes the board settled for a boundary switch rather than reform. "I feel the schools are poorly run, and they decided to bus children instead of reform. When you get through busing, all you have are old buses, while reform will change the lives of children."
Members also want to dispel any idea that their numbers and support are limited. Funk said more than 300 are actually involved in the committee and its subcommittees, but even more have contributed financially.
For weeks before the lawsuit filing, a network of volunteers went door-to-door and telephoned school district patrons to raise the thousands of dollars for the first legal fees. The committee leaders said most were $5 or $10 donations, although a few contributed several hundred dollars each.