Saturday, May 17, 2008

I'm Not a Budget Cut

Friday I arrived at Longfellow School too late to see the full demonstration against Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed school budget cuts. Citizens, parents, teachers and children had been outside all day in the hot sun, waving signs and chanting. I'm told the protesters filled the lawn from one end to the other, while motorists passing on Washington Blvd. honked their agreement: "Don't Cut Our Kids Short."

Already, the kids in my neighborhood sell candy and magazines door-to-door just to go on a field trip. When I was a kid I was a student, not a salesman. How can we give them so much less than what we had?

The smiling man in the middle of the photo is our new Pasadena School Board President, Tom Selinske. He's only just been elected, and he's jumping in feet first. Which is good, because his hands are going to be full. The Governator's got his hands full, too. A budget's a complicated thing and California's in deep financial trouble.

Some might say what happens in Pasadena's schools doesn't affect me because I don't have kids. But good schools in my town raise my property value, and in the bigger picture they enhance my quality of life. When I become a demanding and feisty old lady, I don't want a bunch of drop-outs hanging around, looking for feisty old ladies to pester. I want educated people policing my streets, governing my city and especially managing my health care.

I sound selfish, don't I?

I can help by voting to allocate money to schools, when given the opportunity on a ballot. What else can one person do? Your thoughts?


marley said...

Not selfish at all. Sensible. If only the powers that be were too!

Isaac Garcia said...

We can donate money and contribute to local school fundraisers.

Don't listen to some of the local folks (Peter Dreier) who recently wrote in an email blast to the members of the organization that he founded "Invest in Kids":

"Like many parents, I'm tired of going to silent auctions and bake sales to raise money for my children's public schools."

Label me what you will, but protesting about the budget cuts isn't going to get anyone anywhere.

What a waste of everyone's time.

Bernie K. said...

You'd be right, Isaac, if you could get all that tea back up off the waves of the harbor, into the crates & ship it back where it came. No? Some protests are more profound than others, but such a large-hearted gathering as this juices the community, brings parents into a process they might avoid & teaches kids we love them & care about their future. If some folks don't want to spend their time on that, donations are good, too.

Lydia said...

I wonder why those of us who don't have children sometimes see the big picture more realistically than parent-voters. It seems that way to me in my district, anyway, where I have always voted for school bond proposals. For the same reasons you noted in your post. Our primary is Tuesday (vote-by-mail) and there is an important Measure that seeks general obligation bonds for healthcare, emergency response, industrial, and technology facilities for Chemeketa Community College in Salem. Last week we had a recorded voice message from our mayor (in a little town nearby) urging a yes vote. I'm impressed with the grassroots effort to pass this measure, and I think it might actually go through.

And, of course, I sponsor each neighborhood child in the annual jog-a-thon . . .

USelaine said...

Can't we buy just one less fighter jet, so that we can balance the education budget? Or rock the boatloads of government cash on it's way to Halliburton etc., so that some of the loose change slips off the top and into the hands of our teachers?

Petrea said...

Interesting comments, all. Thank you.

Maybe I see things from an old-fashioned perspective, having grown up at a time when schools were a higher priority. But Isaac, I'm tired of bake sales, too. It's good of you to donate, but it seems literally bizarre to have to donate to something that our taxes should pay for. Like having bake sales to bolster the military.

As far as a protest wasting time, maybe. Then again: the Boston Tea Party, as Bernie said. Or Viet Nam War protests. And this is on a smaller scale. But all groundswells begin somewhere.

Lydia, I don't know if non-parents are more realistic--less emotionally-invested, maybe. And perhaps have more disposable income? You are good to sponsor the local kids in the jog-a-thon. I know from your blog you also sponsor poor kids overseas. You're really something.

uselaine, I like your idea the best so far. One less fighter jet would probably do it for California schools. Those things are expensive!

Isaac Garcia said...

I'm not against protesting. Its fundamental to our Nation's history and forward progress.

Comparing this protest to the Boston Tea Party, though, is completely inaccurate.

Boston Tea Party was about taxation. I'd be the first one dressed in Native American garb throwing the tea off of the boat if this protest were about taxation.

Instead, this is about spending.....the opposite of taxation.

And, unfortunately, fighter jets and Halliburton have very little to do with the California budget crisis that we are in the midst of.
It would be nice if it were that simple. I don't think anyone would argue against it (except for maybe Halliburton). :>

As for bake sales for "already taxed things like school." Well, it wasn't until I got involved with local schools that I realized how much teachers and classes and schools depend on parent and community fundraising, donations and involvement.

Yes - its redundant and shouldn't be necessary. But what "should be" is completely irrelevant to reality. Yes, our taxes should pay for all of our children's and school's needs.....but they don't...and they probably never have....and probably never will.

It is what it is. Unfortunately.

I wish we could blame it on Iraq, or Bush or Halliburton. I wish we could. But we can't. The world isn't that simple.

Remember when California tried to blame it all on Gray Davis? Remember? We threw him out and got our Hollywood Governor?

A majority of voters thought that "if we just got rid of Davis.....things will be better....its his fault afterall."

This year's "budget crisis" is exactly what happen to Gray Davis a few years ago, only its happening under Schwarzennegar.

What are we going to do now? Blame Arnold?

What a waste of time.

Stop blaming.
Do something.
Stop blaming the politicians and the war.

Do something local.

[end of rant] :>

Jim said...

Ummm....nice picture.

Petrea said...

It's a good rant, Isaac. I would dispute you on one point, and that is "our taxes should pay for all of our children's and school's needs"..."and they probably never have..."

Now I know I'm older than you, because I know at one time our taxes paid not only for schools, but for after-school programs, athletic teams, music and arts programs, field trips, etc. Which is why I said maybe I'm looking at things from an old-fashioned perspective. Maybe I'm not being realistic.

Could the protests be the equivalent of "doing something local"? At least a start? They got the attention of passing motorists. Today I saw signs on the fences of other schools, remnants of more protests yesterday. Apparently it was citywide.

Maybe bringing attention to the crisis will be useful. Maybe I'm a Pollyanna.

You said you're involved with the local schools. Excellent. I'm meeting some pretty cool folks who are getting involved, rather than saying "Pasadena's schools aren't that great" and sending their kids to private schools.

Oh Jim, thank you! It's not exactly my artistic best, but that's an issue-related post for ya.

Miss Havisham said...

I think you are wonderful, Petrea.

Petrea said...

Miss H, you sweet thang. I'm gonna pop over and see what you're up to.

diva said...

Pasadena is not alone...this is a national crises. Our educational system needs attention. Teacher's salaries should be HIGH! Our priorities are all screwed up. We pay athletes Millions and take PE, art, music out of the school systems - build multi million $$ stadiums.
When I taught school in the 50's the baby boomers were just coming into schools. $$ were needed for buildings, teachers, equipment. Bond issues were passed to fund them - not build stadiums etc. Yeah-I'm old and cranky but the kids are taking the brunt.
Protests may not change priorities but we have to become activitists and try.

Kelly said...

Petrea, as a member of a local school board, I really loved reading your comments. In Illinois, the funding mechanisms are so awful that we consistently rank in the bottom of the nation. We need to continue to invest in our children.

Petrea said...

Diva, you make a good point about changing priorities, and I think it's what Isaac is getting at. We can't blame Schwarzenegger or Gray Davis. For a long time, our mentality has been to fund corporations (stadia) rather than people (schools). We thought corporations might bring jobs, but Reagan was wrong about the "trickle down theory." Only a few people got rich.

So we need to change. Grassroots, voting, taking part, all those things. Along with being realistic. We have to take our world back, and we have to stop blaming, for two reasons: one, because it doesn't do any good, and two: because we gave it away in the first place.

Just thinking as I type. You could prove me wrong in the next comment.

Kelly, your link was too long to fit here. You can try making it into a tinyurl at That site's a lifesaver.

Palm Axis said...

I'm with Miss H. Thank you for having something positive to say about the Pasadena Unified School district. I often wonder what message we send to our kids when all we do is loudly and publicly nit pick at the district's failures while remaining silent over it's victories. I've met a whole lot of critics who send their kids to private school and only know of one couple who doesn't. Guess what? their children are thriving. Having trouble with math? PUS will hook your kid up with a student tutor attending Cal Tech. That kind of support is there.

Isaac Garcia said...

Amen Palm Axis. Amen.

USelaine said...

About the only time my funky little truck gets washed is when the soccer team or senior class or scouts are doing it.

Maybe school funding should be federalized just like health funding should be federalized.

It's hard to pay attention to a groundswell of disagreement if it's invisible.

Too late to repeal Prop 13. One generation of gentry scored a windfall at the expense of every public school student in California younger than me. Republics require universal literacy and critical thinking skills to exist. We are halfway to feudal already, and we will have arrived by the time I die.

There's a movie scene that always pops into my mind when hard choices about dangerous circumstances arise. It's in that generally crummy caveman movie, "Quest For Fire". The menfolk are copulating some women from the backside, and as these guys are naturally liking the present moment - the immediate pleasure and habit - they don't disengage from that simple compulsion even as they turn their heads and watch the enemy warrior troops sweep down into the scene and attack.

Whoever wrote that idea for the cavemen knew what was all too true of us even now, in so many ways. Pry my pleasures and short term luxuries from my cold dead hands.

Petrea said...

Thanks, Palm. I hear people say, "Pasadena's schools aren't very good." I've repeated it myself in the past. But it was unexamined. I'd heard it somewhere and never found out for myself if it was true. But I think it's an old refrain.

Most of my friends send their kids to local schools, and they're happy with the education their kids are getting. We're talking about JPL scientists, graduates of high-falutin' private east-coast colleges, etc. etc. They've gotten involved, taken an interest in who gets elected to the school board, and been happy with the results.

Check out PEN. They help people find out about Pasadena schools for themselves. They deserve their own post, so I'll see if I can get a photo of something PEN-related.

Jeremiah said...

Protesting is not my cup of tea either. I guess I'm just a un-rebel of the Alex Keaton variety (except not a Republican). Protesting is too retro for a young dad who was raised by Hippies. Maybe Isaac and I are cut from the same cloth. Were your parents protesters?

In any case, my kids go to PUSD, and I'm more of the bent to give something rather than demand something. Check out the first annual IB Walkathon our PTA is putting together. It's a joint effort between the Willard and Wilson PTAs. Our aims are to promote family fitness, raise funds, and build build bridges between Willard and Wilson.

We're hoping that some of Willard's good mojo will rub off on Wilson, and that the quiet revolution happening inside PUSD will begin to take root in middle school, and spread to high school.

Idealistic? Sure. But I already admitted I was raised by Hippies. I just choose to sow the seeds of revolution with proactive rather than protest movements.

Jeremiah said...

Just noticed that hyperlinks are not visually obvious on this blog. You can click IB Walkathon above, and it will take you here ->

Petrea said...

Hi Jeremiah, nice to see you here.

It's great for people to contribute to the schools. But what about parents who are tapped out? What if you have four kids in school? What about parents who struggle to get by? Are you willing to donate to support their childrens' education?

It's one thing to raise money by donations to pay for arts programs. It's quite another to have to fund-raise to pay teachers' salaries. How long can we continue to do that?

Miss Havisham said...

I'm concerned with how the money is spent. It seems to have become a tradition to pad the administration and skimp on the troops, I mean the teachers and the students. Honestly, I don't know if I am talking out of turn-simply because I haven't got accurate, up to date information on the districts I & E reports. I think they should be published. I watch the school board meetings and I really do not understand what is going on. Until I do understand maybe I should refrain from comment. As for criticism and it's affect on our children, this is what I think of that: The children themselves are the most honest of critics. (okay they may grossly exaggerate esp. the teenagers)

Jeremiah said...

I'm going to have my cake and eat it too.

I'm not arguing that people shouldn't protest, nor am I arguing that I think the current system of funding schools is smart (i.e. tied to the year-by-year swings of the economy). It's outrageous that our schools are funded at a level putting California near the very bottom among all US states in per capita spending.

Education, in my view, should be looked at as a national security issue. Teachers would be screened, hired and compensated more in line with doctors if I were king.

I'm glad there are still people willing to go march around with signs and make a scene. I'm just not one of them, and frankly, most protests get lost in the noise.

In the case of education funding, I think the level of indignation is quite high, and therefore the cumulative effect may actually make a difference, we'll see. The fact is, it's a hard problem to solve. If we don't cut education spending at the state level, what programs do we cut? That's the big problem with government entitlements. Once they are created, they're nearly impossible to get rid of. So while my vested interest lies with education, each and every other government program has proponents who put it at the top of their list.

Government funding is subject to . The traditional means of illustrating this concept is a hypothetical example of a pasture shared by local herders. The herders are assumed to wish to maximize their yield, and so will increase their herd size whenever possible. The utility of each additional animal has both a positive and negative component:

* Positive: the herder receives all of the proceeds from each additional animal.

* Negative: the pasture is slightly degraded by each additional animal.

Crucially, the division of these costs and benefits is unequal: the individual herder gains all of the advantage, but the disadvantage is shared among all herders using the pasture. Consequently, for an individual herder weighing these, the rational course of action is to add an extra animal. And another, and another. However, since all herders reach the same rational conclusion, overgrazing and degradation of the pasture is its long-term fate. Nonetheless, the rational response for an individual remains the same at every stage, since the gain is always greater to each herder than the individual share of the distributed cost.

Budget cuts can be mapped to the same conundrum. Clearly the rational choice for anyone with vested interest in a given program is to resist cuts in that program, and yet doing so results in the degradation of the pasture (in the form of higher deficit and/or higher taxes). And yet it would be irrational not to resist.

The larger point here is not as simplistic. I place a high value on public education and I argue that it should be spared at the expense of other programs.

First, because it's already underfunded, relative to other states.

Second, because not educating the vast majority of children to the highest level possible is literally a threat to our national security, never mind the moral arguments.


Petrea said...

A fascinating discussion due to everyone's passion and, I think, ultimate agreement on one thing--education's important. I hope to hear more, even as this topic drifts lower on the page.