Sandra Nichols, Buy a school board, Balance school budget by taxing the poor, regressive tax structure,

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CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS AND PUBLIC EDUCATION—ESSAYS • NEWS • RESEARCH • RESOURCES
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May 22, 2008

Buy a school board, then tax the poor to balance the school district budget

Sandra Nichols
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  "Mr. Woolpert advocates amending the state's tax structure to create a less progressive redistribution of the tax burden." He theorizes that a sales tax increase, which puts the burden on the poor and middle class, will make the funding stream less volatile. That's a "tax-the-poor-more scam."

Money can't buy love, but it can buy a school board.

The formula is simple. Four votes are what you need on a seven-member board. Pour money into the campaigns of four would-be trustees and voila! Glossy campaign mailers and billboards galore. And then in the aftermath, with four votes, you put into place a dream team that tweaks the schools in the direction of your desires.

When you have accomplished this, why not write — or have written for you — a column patting yourself on the back about how great the new school board is and how well the schools are doing.

The question is, why stop at four trustees when you can have seven. The deeper the pockets, the more congeniality you can purchase in a school board. We're talking a major "speak-with-one-voice" school board, the kind all superintendents want.

Among the many things that you can't do with money is turn students into auto-matrons whose special skill is bubbling in little circles on standardized tests and then sit back and expect this to benefit society. People around here value individuality, creativity and critical thinking. These are the antitheses of standardized test-taking skills.

I write in response to Bruce Woolpert's recent editorial in which he praises the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board that he created in the last election. I never attended a meeting of his "Committee for Good School Governance," so I don't know who spoke first at the meetings or who planned the agendas. But identifying Mr. Woolpert as a "member" of that committee — as the local media have — doesn't square with the numerous articles, which dubbed him founder, leader and sponsor of that group.

And so, Mr. Woolpert, you have prompted me to write about school boards and democracy and public schools.

It strikes me as odd that people who are successful in one facet of life, like business for example, think they know better how to solve our social problems, like how to best educate our children. Mr. Woolpert can be proud of his success in the business world, but he should know that those of us who have made education our life's work are proud of our success, too. I grant to business people their expertise in business, but credit educators with our expertise on how people learn.

Here's an excerpt from Mr. Woolpert's column: "Gone are the days in which teachers can complain about ‘teaching to a test.'" What? Teachers have stopped complaining? Mr. Woolpert, you're not listening to teachers. Certainly not the ones I know. They're complaining now, louder than ever, and for good reason. In graduate school we learned that teaching to a test is a no-no. So, don't expect teachers to stop complaining until this No Child Left Behind testing madness is put to rest.

His declaration that "decisive leadership" is the answer to our school and budget woes is a gross over-simplification. "Decisive" is a fine quality in a dictator, but we need leadership that is thoughtful, visionary and inclusive.

To prevent future budget crises, Mr. Woolpert advocates "amending the state's tax structure to create a less progressive redistribution of the tax burden." He theorizes that a sales tax increase, which puts the burden on the poor and middle class, will make the funding stream less volatile. That's a "tax-the-poor-more scam." Advocating for the reduction of taxes on capital gains and corporations, as Mr. Woolpert does, is the very self-serving suggestion you often hear from those in the business world.

So, why do I protest corporate executives taking over our schools? Because business is a dog-eat-dog world and our public schools are cooperative efforts to better our society. We are the ultimate "non-profit" when it comes to money. We take our profit in promoting the common good. And that is why teachers need to be respected and trusted with educational decisions. We are not working for ourselves. We are working for a better society.

But I don't disagree with everything in Mr. Woolpert's column. In fact, I want to thank him for his praise of PVUSD's leadership during the 2003 budget crisis. I remember it well because I was Board President during that crisis, and my colleagues included those trustees that Mr. Woolpert's committee felt needed to be replaced.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist for Santa Cruz City Schools, a Trustee on the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board, and a Project Director for Santa Cruz County Office of Education. Her opinions are not necessarily those of any school district.

© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2008

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