Money not the answer


    Let me state from the outset that many of our friends are on the other side of the Measure S issue. That is, they are for it. Oddly, all have children in public schools. Some have written eloquent letters outlining the catastrophe about to befall the children of Malibu public schools. We are, however, confused about several things and none of the letters or conversations have cleared our confusion. And since most are so open on the subject, I suppose we risk those friendships to have our confusion answered.

    As we understand the eloquent letters, Measure S promises to make everything alright. But the disclosure of what Measure S actually does and does not do seems contradictory if numerous letters to the Times are an indication. One reads of large numbers of extraordinary teachers being let go. Of class sizes skyrocketing. Of enrichment programs going by the boards. Millions are being cut from the State budget for schools. Gov. Davis is said to be considering applying any money raised in a district to apply to needy districts across the State.

    Somehow the proportions seem askew. Measure S does not seem to raise enough money to stem the flood of catastrophe said to be hitting the local public schools. As well, this money is to be shared by Santa Monica. One wonders who’ll get the lion’s share of the money.

    The basic argument as we understand it is that there are State cutbacks and that mostly “enrichment” programs are threatened. That means there may be, to take as an example, no music program for Point Dume Elementary. But hasn’t Cher just contributed $125,000 to the music program? What about other comfortable parents? Apparently they have decided a music program is vital for the well being of their children? If so, why don’t they provide music lessons or get together with other like minded parents and create their own program.

    Wait. Isn’t that what parents at private schools have to do? We must have missed the guarantee of the level of enrichment programs when discussing the public’s obligation with respect to public schools. Over the last 20 years there has been enough money for enrichment programs, yet test scores in California have continued to drop. Could it be that spending more money on education than any first world country except Switzerland and having the lowest testing scores suggests it isn’t about the money?

    It is further our understanding that staffing for school libraries is threatened. Our Lady of Malibu has never had a library. Students go to the public library, parents buy books (even if second hand) and, as well, use the internet for research. Amazingly, we have not heard an outcry of concern from the supporters of Measure S that those who use the various alternatives to the public schools, including home school, might not have music programs or libraries or particular teachers or staff they cannot live without. Then again, these alternatives do not enjoy large administrative structures with public money spent on self-esteem programs. As well, I guess the principle of public education means getting as much money for my child’s well-being as I think desirable while playing the guilt card off the universal agreement that public schools have an important value to society. Last time we looked, we were among those who pay billions in taxes to support public education. Maybe it might be a positive thing to make better use of that money before indulging in the knee jerk assumption that more money will solve everything.

    As well, one hears that the system is so distorted that efforts of parents to contribute to their own schools, to help their own children are severely restricted by State law. So even if we are moved to help a neighbor’s child in a Malibu public school, there is no assurance that the increased property tax will actually do much to help those particular children. Thus we wonder why they aren’t arguing to vote for a statewide increase in the income tax, sales tax, gasoline tax, cigarette tax or just the tax tax in order to really solve the problem of my neighbor – or someone in Santa Monica – or South Central – or Modesto.

    But assume the number of Malibu parents who undertake the burden of private or home school get what they deserve while cheerfully paying their not inconsiderable state taxes to put their neighbor’s children through public school, is Measure S any more creative than the system itself, except with regard to creating a new class of those exempted (seniors) who can vote for something without paying for it. We submit there are huge problems with the California public educational system, but throwing more of our money at the problem seems like an idea in need of its own education.

    Kathryn and Donald Wrye