Ok. When Diane Ravitch speaks, I’m sure it’s a shot heard round the world. But, I’m saddened and livid at the news I found in one of her blogs today. I spent a most of my life teaching in California schools. I know Sacramento. A lot of us from three hundred miles south would travel up there frequently to attend meetings with colleagues. Definitely not to visit the governor living in his mansion in downtown Sacramento.
“The fierce urgency of now, and no democratic process whatever.” This quote from Dr. Ravitch’s blog piece caught my eye. And I abruptly choked. I read on. She wrote about how the Superintendent of Schools for SCUSD (Sacramento City Unified School District), along with the SCUSD Board of Education has “cherry-picked” the cost / revenue figures of the 11 schools being closed with no consideration of the impacts to students, families, and communities. One of the Superintendent’s henchmen on the Sac City Council said that the Supt. had a real “heavy heart” about his decision. His decision? The official word is that no one wants to see across the board cuts to programs and staff positions if the underutilized school sites were kept open. So, we’re going to put up some phony figures to show how under-utilized the schools are and close them for the good of all. Besides, those schools are old and in the way. And we’re doing it and there’s no discussion.
Many in the area say it’s not clear why Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and the school board are ramming this closure deal through. I think some contact with people, teachers, and other school staff would reveal what Dr. Ravitch said is true, unfortunately true. That is, this deal is being made so that property values will decrease so that private equity can swoop in and pick up these school properties on the cheap and start making some bucks (read: school privatization). The closure of these sites would bring in only $2.5 million in revenue to the city. An infinitesimal part of a huge budget deficit.
“The California Department of Education suggests a number of “best practices” to help the public decide. It starts with formation of something called a District Advisory Committee “before decisions are made about school closure.
The CDE says: ‘Gathering the facts must be as credible, transparent and non-political as possible. So, at the very least, the DAC … should be involved in the fact-finding necessary for an informal recommendation about school closure.’” (Quoted from the CDE).
The SCUSD track record on such public disclosure has been ambiguous at best. In the past, citizen committees have spent months determining why school closures are necessary: including number of years in service and condition of structures, how many other schools are in the neighborhood, types of classes offered,demographics of students, costs for busing. You know, the basic kind of stuff.
“No citizen committee this time. The district is just counting rooms and counting bodies, doing some calculating and closing the schools it deems to be the most under-enrolled. Crude, but it’s in a big hurry to close a lot of schools.” They were counting libraries, computer rooms, and the preschools as classroom space.
When even the district’s official figures for these eleven schools destined for closure have been running budget surpluses? (They have. I checked. You can Google the documents too). So, why the big rush for closure? It’s been no secret that the SCUSD truly did “cherry-pick” the costs figures. They are based on a flawed capacity formula so that these schools appear inefficient, under-enrolled.
I’m just wondering if this big rush to judgement by Supt. Raymond, et al, is based on political positioning to reap huge financial gains? Oh, by the way, Supt. Raymond just hired Ed Manansala as his chief of staff. Now, I’m not on the inside like many, but I do know that Manansala is some kind of major player in the charter school business. So, like I said above, push out the kids and staffing, create urban blight so that land values plummet, and have his chief of staff hand pick one or more venture capital deals, and buy the sites on the cheap (maybe even turn, re-sell, them to some charter company or companies) Now that will bring in a major chunk of change. Cha-ching!.
Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance says that ” …[n]o district will receive less than it has this school year, while the “vast majority” will get “moderate to significant funding increases.” The governor’s future funding expectations depend on significant growth in state revenues thanks to the economy and voter-approved tax hikes. That equates into huge jumps in per student spending. Of course, Brown has his critics saying that bigger increases to higher poverty areas (where at least 80% of students are on the free breakfast and lunch programs) versus other school districts (where only only 4% of students receive free breakfast and lunch programs) is unfair. Wow. Sacramento. Yep, most of the kids in poverty are Hispanic and Latino. And there’s still a lot of bigotry way up there in northern California.
So, Governor Brown’s Finance Committee, why is this fradulent “crisis” with twenty percent of the elementary schools in a district, a major city district at that, being allowed to be dreamt up by this “select” group of people allowed to move forward in the face of all this new money for students, and presumably for their attendance at schools that are not in under-enrolled status?
These school closures,seemingly, move forward with Sacramento’s Mayor Johnson’s and his wife, Michelle Rhee’s support. I mean, hey, they just gave $250,000 to get their privatization and ed. reformer buddy on the LAUSD school board way down south in Los Angeles. Like Buddy Guy sings: where, where, where, oh where, where is the next one coming from?