December 13, 2017

If everyone shopped the way the Carroll Middle School students did in a local financial literacy class there would actually be no Carroll Middle School students.

We wouldn’t have a tax base for a public school in Carroll, and perhaps not enough for a city. All the consumer dollars emanating from what would surely be a shredded-to-a-shadow Carroll would flow to e-commerce giants in Seattle and San Francisco.

The Carroll we know would be an unincorporated cluster of houses where residents better be good at self-defense and maintaining wells. Police and sewers would be but memories.

So much for #ChooseCarroll at Carroll Middle School, where kids are taught that the convenience of online shopping trumps loyalty to the downtown merchants and local businesses that are paying for their educations.

As reported in Tuesday’s Daily Times Herald, students in the seventh-grade financial literacy class at Carroll Middle School built spreadsheets to figure out how to budget for purchases. So where did the kids shop? Online, and largely in places with no brick-and-mortar or employment base in Carroll. Nope, our Carroll Middle School kids scoured Amazon.com, Target.com, Pottery Barn’s website and Walmart’s internet shopping features in search of everything they needed or thought they needed.

Which is ironic, because around the same time Carroll Middle School was blithely allowing kids to shop online, with no thought to ramifications on the local economy, community leaders were talking about the central role Carroll businesses would play in key projects in the city — to, get this, better the lives of kids.

At the Monday Carroll City Council meeting, Alie Tigges and Joel Lundstrom, both parents of children with disabilities, made a compelling case for development of a Miracle Field in Carroll — a place where kids (and adults) with physical and intellectual challenges can join their typical peers in an array of athletic pursuits.

We fully support Tigges and Lundstrom in this endeavor.

So will many other Carroll businesses in what will be one more in a growing list of public-private partnerships, a blending of taxpayer dollars with philanthropic contributions.

Let’s be clear. Businesses, which are taxed at higher rates than individuals, pay on the front end with local tax dollars for parks projects like the Miracle Field. Then, we make donations, a second albeit voluntary take.

“(The $470,000 estimate is) the poured surface, that’s the dugout, that’s the fencing, that’s the scoreboard, that is the PA system that you use for announcing, it’s the bleachers — that’s the average price of all of the Miracle Parks that they’ve had in the last how many years,” Alie Tigges told the Carroll City Council. “We have the option of going to the local businesses and saying, ‘OK, does the local lumber company want to donate the material for the dugouts?’ So that price is — since the only thing we have to do through the Miracle League is that poured surface, we would be able to reach out to local businesses in surrounding communities and say, ‘OK, so we want a scoreboard, we need four people to donate $10,000, and your name is on the scoreboard.’ We can do those things that will help with that price.”

Again, this newspaper fully supports the Miracle Field. I serve on the committee working to make it happen with Lundstrom, my friend.

Here’s the thing: Unless local businesses are making a profit, they don’t have the money to do what Tigges and so many other organizations need.

Which is why it is so distressing that our local educators, in a class designed to teach kids about spending, place no value on local shopping, the multiplier effect of each dollar rolling over seven times in a city.

When I first read the story about the seventh-grade financial literacy class prior to it running in this newspaper, I thought about killing the story, or at least taking out references to Target and Amazon and Pottery Barn. Since no local shopping was happening, we would have had to deep-six the full story most likely.

But I let the story and the details go as first submitted by our reporter so the public would be aware that while the Carroll Chamber of Commerce is promoting local businesses through the smart #ChooseCarroll campaign, the middle school is missing an opportunity — I’d call it a duty — to do the same.

But there is good news. Very good news.

Carroll Middle School Principal Jerry Raymond, who was admirably responsive Tuesday when asked about this matter, is open to changing the financial literacy program to spotlight the reasons it is smart to shop local.

Field trips for downtown Carroll shopping experiences, while challenging logistically, can be worthwhile, he said, adding that students had been allowed to pick their own online shopping destinations in the class.

“We’re willing to listen to various suggestions,” Raymond said. “We would sit down and visit with anyone.”

He added, “I understand it.”

Raymond said that students needed to have places to go online for the project featured in Tuesday’s story because it involved the computer lab at Carroll Middle School.

Some of this online shopping exercise boiled down to time and convenience — which is also the way it works in real life. For the sustainability of Carroll, this must change.

Personally, can Raymond see how Amazon.com is devastating to rural Iowa, how retail jobs and income lost are not replaced in Carroll by e-commerce operations that don’t have employees or distribution centers here?

“It’s obviously easy to use but, again, it doesn’t support the community,” Raymond said. “I think whenever you can buy those things locally, then we’d want to do that.”

Does it make sense to teach kids the value to the community of keeping their shopping dollars here with people-to-people spending rather than going online and shipping the money out of town?

Why not rule out all online businesses except those like J.C. Penney or Hy-Vee or Walmart, for example, that actually have physical presences in Carroll in addition to popular internet options?

“You brought up an awareness, and I think we need to encourage our kids of that awareness, and make sure that they do think about what they can do to support the community and purchase locally,” Raymond said.