Friday, November 3, 2017

Today I am thankful for democratic process on a local level when every citizen does have a voice.
About a year ago I have made a decision to start attending as many of our district's board meetings as I possibly could. In simple terms, I realized that if I want to understand better what's happening in my daughter's school, it would be good to be where "the sausage is made" and understand better how decisions are made and what matters on the district level.
Attending these meetings was very educational. For example, I learned that our district school budget is inexorably spiraling toward insolvency. Every year our district spends more money than it brings. Why? Because California is a crazy state that tries so hard to equalize everything. It pays less per student in a super-expensive Silicon Valley than it pays for a student in Fresno, because our students are less likely to be economically disadvantaged English learners. At the same time, state jacked up employee contributions to state workers' retirement funds and, of course, teachers want to be paid decent salaries to afford to live and teach in San Jose. Also, special education costs continue to rise, and the district pays more for special education students than the money it collects from the state and federal agencies who give a mandate for free and appropriate public education but don't put their money where their mouth is.
Because of this financial situation, the district continues to cut and restrict services for high achieving students, since these services appear "elitist" in this time of need. Our gifted-and-talented program was cut several years ago due to the lack of funding. Advanced English program was eliminated in our district's middle school and never started in our new K-8 school. Our STEAM magnet K-8 school did not get funds to have accelerated math program or a foreign language program. Basically, the achievement gap is being closed by not allowing any opportunities for high-achieving students to progress through the curriculum faster. Never mind that these students will feed into a high school district where they will be at a disadvantage, because students from other K-8 school districts do have access to accelerated programs. This will no longer be our district's problem, because it only has K-8 schools.
While the situation seems rather hopeless, I also feel that I can influence the direction somewhat by staying engaged. Just yesterday we brought several parents and kids to the district meeting to talk about the dire need to have some sort of a path for high achieving math students of Smarty's school to obtain a credit in Integrated Math 1 that is needed to be able to take high level math classes in high school. In my speech I tried to focus on the district's goal to keep our attendance numbers high. This means that we want public school to be competitive in terms of programming to private schools in the area. When our magnet STEAM school opened, a lot of kids who came here actually came from private schools and increased attendance numbers of our district. Now parents of many of them are considering putting them back into private schools and many other families like ours are seriously considering following suit. I am curious to see what happens to our school district over years as our demographics gradually shifts to more affluent families who are able to afford houses in this area. If I look at our neighboring, wealthier, districts, parents definitely demand (and obtain) more academic options for their children. Hopefully, our district leadership will see that the pursuit of academic equity will not lead to success but to financial ruin for the district and will change this course to offering programs that are ability-based and not politics-based.

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maryanne @ mama smiles said...

Parent involvement can definitely make a big difference. It's also a big commitment!

Ticia said...

Not much, but I do remember my Mom being involved.
It's interesting to me to read about your woes because I grew up in your area until I was 10 years old, and I have very distinct memories of my Mom having similar woes, and being super involved in the schools, and she was saying the exact same things then.
I remember the parents in my area raising funds to pay for the band director's salary when the school district decided they couldn't afford to pay him anymore, and there being a serious discussion about cutting back graduation requirements and changing to a 4 day schedule for the high schools (this is in the late 80s).
I find the stories of your work with the school board very similar to what I remember my Mom doing when I was a kid.