Over the Hill

Charter school divides our students into haves and have-nots

Last week, I went to the Paso Robles school board meeting to hear about the proposed charter school. I’m still sorting out what I think about it.

I dimly understand that the charter school would be an independent public school within the Paso Robles school district. It wouldn’t be completely independent, but would have its own school board with broad powers.

It could control its own curricula, manage its personnel and set the lengths of its school days and school years. It would be free to take new paths toward an improved education.

I attended last week’s school board meeting with my mind as open as possible and with my usual wide-ranging ignorance. The boardroom was overflowing, mostly with young adults. I assumed they had young children and were worried about getting their offspring the best possible educations.

I’m 80, but I immediately identified with those much younger people. I remembered the worries Mamie and I felt when our son was in first grade and our daughter in kindergarten. That was in 1962, when we moved back to Paso Robles from San Jose.

San Jose’s schools were crowded and operating on double sessions. Our son developed a dread of going to school. Paso Robles’ uncrowded schools were a relief. So when the school district announced an election to raise its tax limit, Mamie and I enlisted.

She became a co-captain of the get-out-the-vote drive. I wrote the script for a 25-minute documentary movie about Paso Robles schools. It was filmed by a school principal. KSBY-TV agreed to give it a free evening broadcast. The chamber of commerce president and I narrated the script live as the film aired. The tax increase passed.

It benefited all our elementary pupils, unlike the current charter school proposal, which will accept only 180 pupils at first, and 410 at capacity. If more children apply than the school can hold, it will conduct a lottery to choose its pupils.

That will divide the district’s pupils into two factions, the chosen and the leftovers. The chosen will get iPods and MacBooks. The leftovers will get whatever their parents can provide. The chosen will get seats in the lifeboat; the leftovers will tread water.

Why not share and share alike and march together to improve all schools? Why not lengthen the school days and the school years districtwide? Why not end teacher tenure? (I never had a job where I couldn’t be fired tomorrow.) Why not raise my school taxes?

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.