Tuesday, March 15, 2011


ONCE AGAIN, the legislature and the governor are at odds about how to balance the budget in California. The Governor wishes to put a question before the voters regarding extension of taxes. The Republicans don’t want the question to go to the voters.  One wonders: why?  Hopelessly deadlocked, the Governor has no choice but to propose a budget that will slash expenses everywhere. Including, again, public schools.

Perhaps it is just theatre. Perhaps it is an attempt to get our legislative leaders to talk, to understand that there must be a balance between the citizenry’s demand for services and the taxes we shell out to pay for ‘em. In the end, as happens every time we achieve crisis status with the budget, solons will talk about the costs of schools, excessive administrative overhead, teachers only working “nine months,” that our schools are "failures" - Oh yeah?  Show me the data. -  and now, though completely unfounded given the way CalSTRS operates, excessive pensions.

Yeah. Perhaps it’s all just theater.

BUT IN THAT THEATER, here's what I know they won’t talk about:

It won’t be mentioned that educators are problem solvers. Every time the state gets into financial difficulty, some reduction in funding to education seems to be part of the solution. And every time a reduction in funding to education becomes reality, educators make do. We confront a problem and solve it. With increases in class size. With reduced paraprofessional assistance. With cutbacks on office staff, custodial support and educational supplies. Kids keep comin’ to school, so everything must be okay, right?

It won’t be mentioned that the customers are happy, generally speaking. While most parents responding to surveys report that public schools are good, very good, or excellent in many aspects regarding instruction, school safety, climate, quality of teaching, care for kids; the few folks who oppose the efforts of the public schools, seem to get lots of ink over issues such as bullying, school violence, or malfeasance of personnel. The exceptions when bad behavior takes place become news. The successes do not.

It won’t be mentioned that current accountability standards set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act require that by 2014, all children will test at the proficient level in English language arts and mathematics. This impossible standard will prove that schools are failures. And this standard will slip further from reality as resources for school programs dwindle. All while the enormity of the challenge grows. More children arriving with Spectrum Disorders. More non-English speakers. And a rather constant number of children of children.

Further, it won’t be mentioned that many, if not all, schools are now mandated to:

  • Assess incoming Kindergarten student oral health;
  • Closely monitor the food eaten by students;
  • Offer free lunch to children of families who reside in poverty;
  • Force attendance of students whose parents don’t care whether they attend;
  • Provide counseling for kids who may have been the victims of abuse, violence or poor parenting;
  • Offer health screening and services from certified nurses;
  • Instruct all students in English regardless of the language spoken at home – and there are hundreds of different languages in California;
  • Employ law enforcement personnel or contract with local jurisdictions, even though schools exist within the jurisdiction of those law enforcement agencies;
  • Provide transportation to and from school; and
  • Supervise students from well before classes take up until well into the evening.

Note to reader: all of these expectations represent good things. And there can be no doubts about that. However, further, it won’t be mentioned that:

  • Businesses thrive when there is an on-going supply of the capable workers schools could provide were resources available.
  • Complex problems of the new millennia require a citizenry steeped in creative thinking skills and problem solving expertise, something schools are suited to provide if afforded the appropriate resources.
  • Performing arts and the visual arts provide emotional and expressive outlets for those young people who must, without those public school offerings, find other means of expression: something schools could provide with adequate resources.
  • A burgeoning prison population might be quelled if schools had the resources necessary to meet the needs of at risk youngsters.

CURRENTLY, IN CALIFORNIA, schools are facing up to another 10-plus percent decrease in the funding that had been anticipated as necessary to maintain the programs schools are mandated to offer. Ten percent represents a lot of stuff schools and children will do without. Ten percent more students in a class. Ten percent fewer hours of remedial support. Ten percent more parent conferences per class, thus ten percent less time for critical teacher / parent communication. Ten percent less one-on-one time with the teacher.

But look at ten percent one other way. In a ten month school calendar, ten percent equals April. Suppose the teachers union and the administrative club, the PTAs and the school board association all decided to make a statement. Jointly. Powerfully. Suppose, statewide, all of the public school teachers, counselors, nurses, instructional aides, clerical staff custodians, computer technicians, site principals and big-wig district administrators simply shut ‘er down for ten percent of the school year.

And suppose it was April.

How deep into that month would the school community need to go before someone in Sacramento got the message that something needs to be done to ensure the best possible education for all of our young people? How long would it be before the public informed their elected representatives that the future of his or her political career rested with his or her support of the public’s schools? How long would it be before the whiney, selfish, inappropriately self-titled “conservative,” minority, the group who consistently thwarts revenue increases through tax measures, (YIKES: that dreaded word “tax”; the political equivalent of the third rail that threatens to electrocute those who mistakenly ground it out) would be shouted down by folks who understand that an investment in public schools is an investment in our children and that an investment in our children is an investment in the vitality of the state and our own collective futures.

IT IS TIME FOR THE EDUCATION COMMUNITY to take loud and united action to forcefully draw attention to the noble and indispensable work we do. Rather than be the problem solvers we have always been, it is time to place the problem squarely where it belongs. Where? At the feet of those unwilling to create the financial stability so that schools can concentrate on the work we do rather than on how we’re going to create successful students with fewer resources to support our vital work.

Just how does the education community lay the problem at the feet of those responsible?

By finally taking a stand. We could start by taking April off.

Now that would be theatre.

© 2008; 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. A version of this commentary was printed in the Sonora (Tuloumne County) Union Democrat in 2008.

  2. Wait a minute! Are you suggesting a job action like a strike? That doesn't sound very middle-of-the-road to me. I think you are intent on sacrificing our kids in order to make a political point. You need to change the banner comments in your "Church of the Open Road" headline box. Otherwise you sound like a hypocrite.

  3. Sorry Anonymous. You may have missed the point by a degree or two. This piece is metaphorical - that is, it attempts to point out what ten percent actually looks like.

    If one wishes to take it literally, then, while the Church of the Open Road cannot condone "work stoppage," if everyone just stayed home in April without pay, there'd be that ten percent savings - very much at the expense of our kids.

    Understand that the current practice of chiseling programs ultimately is "at the expense of our kids."

  4. DH: "Do More With Less". That has been the mantra in California ever since Prop. 13 passed, stripping local governments and special districts of any hope of dealing financially with local problems. As a Parks & Recreation worker for 35+ years I know that at some point rather early on "doing more with less" became impossible. We will now do even less with severely even less.

  5. Brilliant concept - not a work stoppage/strike, but rather a visible illustration of what 10% really looks like. Salient and well written in 2008 and still right - on. Good on ya and you have my support for any necessary move from middle-of-the-road.

  6. A Field Poll of Californians, reported on in March 16th's Sacramento Bee, shows that the majority of those asked - more than 60% - favor an election allowing the voters to decide the question of extension of current tax rates. Further, the poll indicates the majority of Californians - although a slightly smaller percentage - favor the extension of those taxes.

    In a climate where one side continues to stridently declare both "the American people want (fill in the blank)" and "let the people decide (fill in the blank)," why would that side wish to legislatively thwart an opportunity for the people's voice to be heard?

    Perhaps it is because that side uses the "people's voice" argument as window dressing - something that sounds or looks good, but doesn't actually play well or support their real agenda.

    George Orwell called this "double-speak." It is alive and well on the Republican side of the aisle in the California legislature.

  7. Correction: Actually, Orwell's term was "doublethink."