I didn't want to go to the PTO meeting tonight. I was feeling tired, and somewhat cranky, but I'm on the PTO board, and there are some big things going on in our local public school district.
Frankly put, the district -- like many in California -- is in a financial crisis. It's not the result of any one problem or mistake or situation. It's the confluence of a host of factors: a dismal state budget, federal "Leave No Child Behind" mandatory requirements that are totally unfunded (thank you, George W.), rising property values in the community so that fewer families with young kids can afford to buy homes here, with resulting decreasing enrollment numbers...those are just a few of the issues. The result is that our district -- smack in the middle of a wealthy community, with luxious homes, successful tourist-based business like high-end restaurants and wineries, and tasting rooms -- is in dire financial shape.
Meantime, there has been a heated discussion appearing in the small, weekly local newspaper about why people choose public school over the various private school options in the area. It has touched a lot of sensitive spots -- and in fact, there have been so many incensed letters-to-the-editor written by friends and neighbors with the result that my next book club meeting (5 private school moms, 4 public school moms) may well be a bit tense. The issues are right at our doors, affecting our children, and they implicate the most fundamental of our values.
Me, I'm a big public school supporter. I was lucky to grow up in California when the public schools were at the top of the rankings, and I attended public schools through college and was able to hold my own when I ended up at an Ivy League, top-10 law school. I got a great education.
But more than that, I came away with the strong belief that public school is a vital element of a democracy. The diversity and breadth of education --not just academic -- is integral to a thriving community. As a result, I spend a lot of time volunteering at the school. I work in my daughter's classroom. I'm on the board of the PTO. I run the school's twice-yearly book fair (which satisfies my fantasy of running a book shop--I get to do it for 2 weeks a year and I'm glad to pack it all up and send it away.) I'm on the school board's communication committee, and I'm active in an education foundation that raises money to benefit all the schools in the district. And, to be honest, I feel like I should do more.
I don't begrudge any parent's choice of school, and assume that they're making the best decision for their child and their family. But I do begrudge people whose kids are out of school, or whose kids are in private schools, complaining that they shouldn't have to support the public school systems with their tax dollars. What about those kids whose parents don't speak English? (My community has quite a few of them.) What about the families who can't afford a private school? What about the kids whose parents, for whatever reason, don't or can't put that much time on maximizing their kids' educational opportunities? Who'll make sure they get the best education they can get? The community must do it, for the good of the community.
Oops. I'm ranting. But here's the upshot...my district's situation has arisen because of a ton of small things, and it'll be solved by people in the community like me participating in small ways to make a big difference. It's hokey, but I believe that it's the only solution. So, if you have a public school in your community, whether or not you have kids, do what you can to support it. Send $10, even, if you can. There is nothing more important than the kids in our communities. Give them your help, in whatever way you can.
Stepping off of soap box now....