I applaud the effort the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce is making by forming a master education plan for the county; any time you have community engagement around an issue there is an opportunity for improvement.

But, I have serious concerns about its effectiveness because of the level of rhetoric coming from the Racine Education Association (REA), the union representing Racine Unified teachers, and RAMAC. We — not our schools — are all failing our children when we don’t act as a unified front to educate our youth. Period.

We have become so divided in this community that we fail to recognize our role in creating what we have and do not have in this school district because we fail to realize the problem is “us.” When we fail to own our shortcomings that means we no longer “get to be the solution.” And as this blame game continues — between parents and schools, businesses and the union, and the union with businesses — our children and your neighbors’ children suffer.

This is unacceptable. Our children deserve better.

We need to get back to the mindset that schools are just as important as businesses, that teachers are vital and valued, and that every student deserves the best education no matter where they live.

Still, the plan presented by Dominic Cariello, a RAMAC board member, has merit despite it being rooted in distrust and blaming the union for not educating our children to RAMAC standards, and it reminds us very much of how the REA blames businesses for not having good enough paying jobs and for not preventing jobs being shipped overseas.

Why is this plan important?

We used to make 10,000 widgets here with 10,000 people in dirty factories, but with technological advances, the factory of today only needs 100 people to create the next best widget. That’s the reality, but it’s also an opportunity because 20 percent of Racine County workers are employed by manufacturers compared to 8 percent in other states. As the factory floor has changed, so has the work and the skill set needed there.

This is our opportunity. Wisconsin has the highest percentage of manufacturing in the U.S., and as people from the Baby Boomer generation retire, manufacturers will need people to do the work. But, if workers have no desire to go into manufacturing, the very real possibility is that both workers and businesses could leave the area.

So it’s not unrealistic to consider an advisory role for business community in education; leaders could provide invaluable insight, but there needs to be a lot less blaming.

Here’s our take:

Things we think that have merit:

  • A coordinated, cohesive effort to help the Racine Unified community – including faculty and staff, parents, and students – better understand the opportunities businesses offer.
  • A means of donating equipment and staff time to help educate RUSD students.
  • A vision that outlines the educational opportunities our businesses need to have addressed over the long haul.

Things we need take issue with:

  • The term “soft skills:” Common complaints include employees not showing up on time ready for work and spending too much time on their cell phones. What if businesses alternated coming into schools and provided training on how to shake hands, look people in the eye, the importance of arriving a few minutes early so when the clock strikes, they’re on the floor and ready to work?
  • Blaming “the lazy people:” In the City of Racine, approximately one in seven adults does not either own or have access to a car. Without an adequate, much less a comprehensive, mass transit system to move people from their neighborhoods to where the jobs are, it’s unrealistic to blame them for not having the means to get to work. More, there is a growing number of millennials (ages 18 to 30) who both don’t want a car and have no need for a driver’s license because they want to live where they can walk, bike or take mass transit to work. Until we implement a solution to our transportation issue, folks who want to work won’t be able to get there, and we’ll continue to fall behind in attracting younger, tech-savvy workers – or keeping the ones we have – who could realistically put down roots, start families and become valued members of the community. Making sweeping statements about “lazy people” is disingenuous and destructive.
  • The Master Education Plan asserts that RAMAC will allow teachers to teach, but RAMAC officials have consistently criticized the union’s position that they need another year to implement the academy/block scheduling plan. If we truly respect our teachers, we need to respect their expertise and listen to their concerns to better understand their position and let that discussion lead to solutions between teachers and administrators.

Cariello talked about partnering with the district through the higher expectations program to help Racine Unified School District staff develop curriculum so that it aligns with potential jobs. He also stressed the need to let teachers teach. But Cariello also said that if business leaders are given a seat at the table and they decide not to be part of the conversation, they better not complain.

“Here is your opportunity to provide some human capital, some mentoring,” he said. “We need to be a partner and not fake it.”

We couldn’t agree more, but that table needs to take on a much more respectful tone to be effective.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.