Friday, June 18, 2010

LA Unified Needs More Than a Garden Hose to Put Out This Fire

Measure E didn’t pass last week. Yet, there wasn’t much fuss made about its defeat. No big public outcry (Scott Folsom called it a half hearted attempt at a half measure in his weekly online newsletter, 4LAKids). No big important interviews. Very little publicity. In fact, it’s been pretty quiet. Those who have followed the hype and propaganda are asking, “Why so quiet?”

It’s quiet, because those of us who have been fighting the good fight (for or against) have run out of steam. We’re depressed. Of the 300,000 or so who actually voted on it, not much has been said publicly about the outcome. I personally did not vote for Measure E. Not because I’m anti-arts education, anti-public education, anti-school libraries, anti-low class sizes, anti-teacher, anti-kid, anti-taxes, or cheap. I voted “no” because I do not trust LAUSD. It’s that simple. They promised way too much with Measure E. That alone should have made voters suspicious.

The well meaning arts education community took it on as the one thing that would save the arts in schools. TV ads were run, claiming Measure E would save the poor little children in LAUSD. Celebrity public school dad Brian Austin Green sent out emails to everybody who had signed Wonderland’s petition, asking them all to vote for it. Schools sent fliers home in backpacks promoting it, as well as recorded telephone messages, encouraging parents to support it. Such campaigns definitely got people out to vote in favor of Measure E, but it didn’t persuade those of us who have heard it all before, and it certainly didn’t sit well with people who are tired of being taxed in general.

According to the latest data from the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder County Clerk, 20% of the 1.9 million registered voters voted on Measure E. It didn’t get the 2/3 needed to pass. Who voted? People who care about public education, supporters of arts education and libraries, teachers, friends of teachers, responsible voters who always participate in the democratic process (even if they aren’t passionate about everything on the ballot), and anti-tax citizens.

I could relate to the many Naïve Hopefuls who took to the streets with their puny little demonstrations (I drove my kids up to the state capitol two years in a row to demonstrate on the capitol steps with the Burning Moms, as well as protested with the same group outside of the Governor’s Conference for Women, asking Maria Shriver to put public education on the day’s agenda instead of cooking and beauty tips, and I supported the Lemonade Initiative a year ago). I felt for my friends in the arts education community who sent out e-mails and posted positive messages on Facebook. I was that idealistic once. And if I was a parent in any other school district, I might still be that idealistic. But I know too much now. No amount of PR and hopeful rhetoric could sway those of us who have been jaded by the system to buy what LAUSD was selling. We didn’t believe them. Not when so much money goes towards feeding the beast before feeding the children.

When I was a new parent ten years ago, I voted out of pure emotion and ideology. I voted for every bond measure or proposition that would benefit public school children. I was too naïve and idealistic to know that everything didn’t always have immediate or real impact on children. Fast forward ten years and take a look at the faces of my many friends, colleagues and relatives after I outed myself as being against Measure E a few days before the election. My arts education friends were shocked. My teacher friends felt betrayed. But my fellow active LAUSD parent friends…………..they were right there with me. They’ve been burned. They’re burned out. And now we’re watching LAUSD burn down.

I’ve done my part in trying to make things right for kids who attend public schools in my community. I’ve stepped up and served as PTA president at my daughter’s school when I didn’t want to, and didn’t have the time, but someone had to do it, so I stepped up. I’m doing my best to keep the arts education nonprofit that I started ten years ago going during this recession. I show up for meetings, conferences and rallies. I send letters to newspapers. I blog. I even researched running for school board. But I decided against it when I realized that nothing was ever going to change, because LAUSD is too big. I will continue to advocate for the many kids in my community whose parents are politically powerless and poor, even if I end up pulling my own daughter out of public school. That’s sad.

I’m sad. I’m tired. And I’m very concerned about the innocent victims who have no other choice other than attending their neighborhood schools. And more than that, I’m sickened to know that so many over paid adults benefit from LAUSD being so dysfunctional. They want things to stay just the way they are.

The embers that has been smoldering in LAUSD has been glowing for decades. But now the hot embers have been fanned into a full-on blaze. It will take more than a garden hose such as Measure E to put out this fire. It’s time to start pulling kids out of the burning buildings.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm Not Voting for It

E-mails are circulating, talking about it. Smiling little faces are asking for it on TV. Facebook is covered with posts asking people to support it (most come from members of the arts ed community, many of whom do not have children in the school system). A rally is planned for Saturday to get publicity for it. What is it? Measure E - a $100 parcel tax that should fill in $92 million of the $640 million deficit for LAUSD next year. The big promise? 1,200 jobs will be saved, school libraries will stay open, class sizes won’t increase and the arts will live on!

Do I believe it? Not for a minute.

When I started a nonprofit over 10 years ago, I hired a consultant to work with me on how to understand and navigate the school system. One of the best pieces of advice that I received from the first consultation was that whatever I did, I needed to follow through with my promises, because teachers and schools will have a hard time believing me, since they are so accustomed to LAUSD making and breaking promises to them over and over again. They had grown to expect it.

And now, ten years later, I can attest to that myself. Every time the district makes a promise, or comes out with a new, great plan, we just shake our heads. We’ll believe it when we see it. Well meaning district reps ask, “Where is the support?” They don’t get that the support they seek (usually around election time) doesn’t come, for one simple reason: they haven’t proven themselves to be worthy of our trust.

The school district is too big. I don’t think it will ever be able to right itself because too many (highly paid) adults benefit from the system being so dysfunctional. The district’s primary purpose is to manage liability – not to educate children like their mission statement says. We all know it and that’s why we get so irate whenever the district holds our children up and proclaims how much they care. Just like a dysfunctional family, kids are neglected or ignored until the adults in charge need something from them. This is one of those times. The truth is, our kids are just dollars and data to LAUSD and the lawmakers in Sacramento. Nobody really seems to care.

I’d rather donate $100 to my kid’s school for the next four years where I trust that every penny of it will go to good use. So I’m not voting for it. I’m not voting for it because I do not trust LAUSD.