Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Less Than Ideal Workplace

Imagine that you have a job in which you work with a team of other people. Because you all work on the same project, you work in close quarters, in cubes surrounded by your team mates.

Unfortunately your building is not air-conditioned. So in the hot weather your employer brings fans out and blows the air around for circulation; despite the fact that you are hot and sweaty, you are expected to perform and get your job done.

In cold weather the old radiators tick and rattle away, and because you're on the first floor, you get to roast so that the heat can make its way up to those working on the third floor, since the radiators up there are frequently under repair and having air leached from them to improve the heat flow. Those poor employees get to sit in thick sweaters and boots in their cubes. Again, do your best work, everyone!

When you're hungry, you may get to eat your lunch. But because the lunch room only accommodates a fraction of the workers at a time, you may have to wait until much, much after your stomach started rumbling, because other workers are in there eating in shifts. At least you've got a granola bar to get you through. Or, you could be one of the lucky workers who gets to eat just two hours after breakfast, but because those employees aren't actually hungry when they get their lunch break, they don't really feel like eating and end up snacking later on in the afternoon.

When you do finally get to have lunch, you have 20 minutes to retrieve your lunch, gobble it down and possibly go outside for a quick breath of fresh air. But then it's back to your cube again, doing your best to concentrate on your work.

Your boss decides that he needs more employees to get all of this work done, so he reconfigures the cubes to be a little smaller and puts a few more cubes on your floor. It's snug, but not too bad. Because there are more workers to accommodate for lunch, your lunch break gets pushed back even later because he had to add another lunch shift to accommodate everyone, since the lunchroom holds an even smaller percentage of all of the employees.

A year later yet another new group of employees come in, and once again the cubes are made smaller to accommodate this. If you push your chair back too far you'll hit the chair of the person sitting behind you, and you yourself are frequently jostled by others trying to move around in order to get their jobs done. All the floors are being used in this way -- there is no talk of perhaps taking over another floor in the building, or finding a building more suitable for all of the employees.

How likely would you be to stay at this job?

Sounds like a Dilbert cartoon strip, doesn't it?

It's actually a school.

It's my children's school, one of many Twin Cities metropolitan schools that are facing higher enrollment. While schools get operating money on a per pupil basis, they do not get capital money on a per pupil basis. The message that the state sends the schools are: you got your money to teach these children, go do it with the facilities you've got.

And if you don't fit into the space, go to those taxpayers and ask them to help you build a new space. Good luck with that, because property taxes have steadily increased year after year in this state, even though incomes haven't gone hand-in-hand with that. And while everyone says they support education, from the politicians to the general public, when it comes down to voting to increase our own taxes to make that happen, many of us aren't so keen on that. (Oh, you mean you want ME to support schools? I thought you meant those people over there.)

I attended a meeting at Lake Harriet Community School in Minneapolis last night in which we are at critical enrollment levels. We're not the only one: schools all around us are crammed full, re-purposing music rooms and teacher lounges into core classrooms to accommodate the students. And while no one likes increasing class sizes, the bald fact is that there is physically no more room to cram more bodies into these classes. At what point do we stop thinking of our children as head counts and start realizing that they are people?

While I have an extremely vested interest in my children's school, I know that parents all across the metro area have the same vested interest in their own children's schools who are all facing the same issue. We are all approaching the same source for that funding: the state of Minnesota.

We need to take a fresh look at how we pay for education in Minnesota.


  1. We've got the same problem here in Des Moines (especially the quickly growing West side). Since I'm new to this whole having a kid in school thing, I'm not entrenched in the aggravation ... yet.

  2. I Just shared this post on my blog ( Thanks for sharing. This is such a critical issue in our country and I'm thankful that others are as concerned as I am.

  3. Many concerns, I agree. Great post. Just yesterday afternoon, I picked up my kindergartner at Minneapolis Kids - located in the basement of the school. I am perplexed that my third grader has not had enough time to finish her lunch - her lunch box comes home still half full. What is going on?

  4. I think it is an excellently written piece. The analogy to the workplace is great, I thought for a minute you were going to speak about child labor in the old days. You should off it to letters to the editor for the Star, or other local papers. Well done daughter.

  5. Ellen Shriner2:02 PM

    Your Less Than Ideal Workplace sounds exactly like my sons' experience in high school -- lunch @ 10:20 or 1:30. We need to do better!