I am quite concerned as a married, 65-year-old retired husband and father trying to get by on a fixed income. My concern? That some of my neighbors can’t get along with two incomes (presumably) and raise two kids without asking all the rest of us to pay (through our taxes) for their Kleenex, snacks and art supplies.
— Letter to the editor, Aug. 16
To realize our schools do not have art supplies, pencils, paper, Kleenex and free bus services makes me sick. Shame on us.
— Letter to the editor, Aug 21
Like it or not, the rotten economy has indeed caused many local school districts to begin asking families to pay for services and provide supplies that once were routinely offered free of charge.
And we aren’t just talking nickels and dimes. Transportation fees, in particular, can add up.
The Lucia Mar Unified School District, for example, recently increased the fee for bus transportation to $1.50 per day, from $1 per day. That works out to $280 for an annual bus pass. (Prices are reduced for large families, and low-income families are eligible for free transportation or reduced rates.)
In some cases — sports, for instance — charges aren’t mandatory, but are nonetheless greatly encouraged.
As Tribune writer Donovan Aird reported last weekend, many local public schools request the parents of student athletes to contribute a set amount to help defray team expenses. Paso Robles, for instance, asked parents to contribute $60 per sport last year, and may request more this year.
We find it unfortunate — and yes, unfair — that a free public school education in California no longer covers some of the basics taken for granted even five years ago. But until the economy recovers, we believe schools have no choice but to tap every possible revenue stream, which includes passing on more costs to parents.
We won’t go into a litany of financial woes affecting each and every district. One statistic alone speaks volumes: A record number of school districts in California — 174 — were on the most recent list of financially troubled school systems, meaning they may not be able to meet their financial obligations over the next couple of years. Six local districts were on the list: Atascadero unified; Lucia Mar unified; Paso Robles schools; Pleasant Valley elementary; San Miguel elementary; and Shandon unified.
So yes, until we weather this financial crisis, charge for bus service, if necessary. Ask parents to pitch in if their children play baseball or water polo or football. Better that than cut transportation altogether, or lay off a coach.
We hope, however, that these are emergency measures and in the not-too-distant future, California schools will be adequately funded.
We must never lose sight of California’s responsibility to provide a well-rounded education to every student — free of charge.
That includes not only basic classroom instruction, but also an array of sports and other extracurricular activities; music and art classes; physical education at every grade level; well-stocked libraries; occasional field trips to cultural events and historical points of interest; and — dare we say it? — summer school programs geared toward enrichment, and not just remediation.
California’s schoolchildren once had access to all those programs, at no cost. We should insist that they do again — or an entire generation will be shortchanged.