Joetopia

State of our public schools is a disgrace

Today, in our public schools, we are witnessing nothing less than the crumbling of American society.

The point was made ever more clear this week as San Luis Obispo County districts once again sent out pink slips notifying teachers and staff that their jobs were hanging in the balance.

It’s a simple abomination, what’s going on there, and if you don’t have kids, you probably have no idea just how bad things have gotten — and how quickly.

The cuts and layoffs over the last couple of years will be compounded again with this latest round, a combined force of rot that has eaten a once-robust system down to its bones.

The relentless and merciless pressure to reach an ever-lowering bottom line has with stunning speed erased years of thought and work to improve the public school experience.

Class-size reduction — the California standard that trimmed early elementary grades down to a 20-student limit — has been all but obliterated.

Support staff to the core curricula — in the form of specialized teachers, counselors, aides, coaches and others — continues to erode as enriching programs in athletics and the arts are cast aside.

And basic education — not only language and mathematics, but also science, social studies, foreign languages, etc. — is being reduced to an undeniably common, common denominator.

In Cynthia Lambert’s story this week, county Superintendent of Schools Julian Crocker summarized the sad state of affairs well: “So what you have at the end of the day is probably a very vanilla program with basically classroom teachers and a large class, unfortunately.”

Great.

What a wonderful learning opportunity we’ve created for this generation of kids.

I have two in that generation.

A couple of weeks ago, the 9-year-old participated in a choral concert at her school, before which it was announced that the program — along with band — would likely be eliminated next year.

Spectacular.

So we’ll cram 30-plus kids in every elementary school classroom and leave teachers little to no support as they focus nearly all their attention on reading and math while coaching students to the requirements of California’s standardized tests.

While we’re at it, why don’t we just go ahead and eliminate recess, too?

Forget lunch, they don’t need to eat. We can’t subsidize these hot meals any longer.

Windows? Bah, costs too much to clean them. Plywood’s cheaper — er, better. Yeah.

Electricity? Well, we should keep that, because at this rate pretty soon all we’ll have left is a TV monitor in a boarded up room piping in mass lessons from a single teacher in Sacramento.

Like I said, an abomination.

Why? Because of ridiculously poor money management by our state government, which continues to outdo itself in its capacity for ineptitude.

The fact today is simple.

We cannot count on Sacramento.

Which leads me to my ultimate point: To save our public schools, we need to take personal financial responsibility for them.

That means raising taxes, and if any of you even dare squawk, just realize that you are putting your individual present above our collective future.

For any district that is enduring yet another round of debilitating cuts, it is time to pass a raised assessment on every local property to gather dollars that will be devoted exclusively to public education.

Yes, you heard me right: YOU AND ME AND ALL OF US NEED TO PAY MORE TAXES.

How much would it take? I don’t know. $100 a year? $200? $500?

Whatever it is, we must find a way to afford it. If we have to amend Proposition 13, we should begin considering ways to do that.

Jim Lynett, president of the Paso Robles Public Educators teachers union, wants to see his district request a $20-a-month parcel tax, an amount that would cost property owners $240 a year and raise $2 million for the district.

But, as he noted in a story earlier this month, “They haven’t even put that on the agenda to discuss it.”

Superintendent Kathy McNamara was cool to the idea, saying, “We want to be sensitive to the community.”

No, we don’t. We don’t need to be sensitive any longer.

We need to be strong and decisive and proactive in finding methods to generate — not reduce — money for public education.

We need leaders who are strong, decisive and proactive as well.

And we need our citizens to recognize this, step up and be supportive.

Anyone who can’t get behind this cause ought to be ashamed of themselves, because the other option — not investing in the lives of our next generation — is an affront to the standards we hold ourselves to and absolutely, unequivocally unacceptable.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor at The Tribune and writes the Joetopia blog at sanluisobispo.com. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com.

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