ttention: parents and concerned citizens.
"The Report" is on the table now, in draft form. I am referring to the lengthy and long-awaited document regarding the possibility of Aptos-area schools seceding from the Watsonville-area schools to create their own school district. This concept, which has been in the works for many years, is known as the "Aptos Secession Movement". The movement has taken another step forward with the release of this report, which was made public on September 1. Comments from the public are being welcomed by the PVUSD, Office of the Superintendent.
A thorough review of the report draft reveals some extremely important information, which will effect our public schools far into the future. The most important issue is whether our schools will foster or discourage integration between students from diverse cultural-linguistic groups. If you want students to learn how to succeed in the multicultural future of our State, you will favor significant integration in the public schools. Division of the Aptos-area schools from those in the Watsonville community severely restricts such integration. Already these two locales are separated by location, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and to some degree, language.
Speaking of language, there is a great deal of justified dissatisfaction that Spanish speaking students are not learning English quickly and well in our schools. The issue of integrated schools is closely related to English language learning. One of the most effective ways to teach English is to see that English speakers and English language learners are grouped together and talk to each other. Children learn language from their peers! If their classmates are predominantly Spanish speaking, this deters a natural process of English language acquisition that is available in more integrated schools.
Our Watsonville-area schools have huge numbers of limited English speakers. This is not conducive to rapid English acquisition. If you agree that more English should be spoken in the schools, we need schools that are more integrated. "The Report" concludes that under reorganization (Aptos Secession), "the opportunity to desegregate its student body would be reduced" (p.24).
"The Report" contains many appendices, one of which (Appendix C) reveals in chart form that following the proposed division of the districts, Aptos-area schools would decrease in Hispanic students from 31.06% to 16.04%. It certainly is predictable that the proposed division of the district would promote racial segregation, especially in the Aptos-area schools. "The Report" states that the "change in ethnic minority population after reorganization will be minimal..." (p.23). This distorts the real effect of secession.
What does "The Report" say about money? School funding is very complicated and depends on many factors. One factor relates to the property tax base of the communities. Property values are very much a concern when considering the ramifications of school district division. Currently, according to "The Report", the Aptos-area total assessed property value is $2,975,536,777 and the Watsonville-area total assessed property value is$2,832,712,984 (p.3).
One might think from these figures that there is an equitable split of wealth between these two areas. The authors of "The Report" do not point out that to fairly compare these figures requires factoring in the number of students served in the schools by area. Watsonville-area schools would be serving 17,205 students, nearly 5times the number of students as those to be served by Aptos-area schools, 3740 students (p.2).
"Criterion #8" (p.36) is of interest regarding money and property values. The Ed. Code specifies that division of districts will not be approved when these are motivated by an effort to increase property values. It would be indeed difficult to prove motivation, but it is commonly believed and reasonable to expect that high test scores do, in fact, have a positive effect on property values. "The Report" states that separation of the Aptos-area schools from Watsonville-area schools would lead to the Aptos-area school district being "one of the top scoring districts in the State". Redistricting will effect property values, whether or not the original intent was to do so.
"The Report" enumerates the conditions by which the California Education Code permits the splitting up of districts, such as that being proposed by the Aptos Secession Movement. Clearly two of these are not met, those being that segregation not be promoted and that there not be a negative financial impact on either district. There also remains the suspicion that increasing property values may be a motivating factor.
Another criterion speaks of "community identity" in a very positive light. Here are some of the factors that "The Report" includes in the section about the Aptos-area community identity, factors which define that community and serve to distinguish it from other communities: "socioeconomic status", "ethnic composition", and that they are associated with "cultural opportunities such as Shakespeare Santa Cruz, the CabrilloMusic Festival, the Santa Cruz County Symphony..."(P.19). How does this sentiment translate into common terms? That the cultural identity is based on color, wealth, and sophistication. Hmmmm!
Let's not draw a solid line between these two communities! We are already divided enough. Let's put our energy into finding our common ground, the desire for our children to have the benefit of a top-quality education.
We all care about the future of our community. We need well-educated citizens, who know how to work with people who may be different in terms of race, background, religion, and in so many other ways. Public schools could be the breeding-ground for social, economic, and academic connections across the barriers which currently divide our communities. Let's make this happen!
Sandra Nichols is past president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with the Santa Cruz City School District, and served on the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site. This article was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian in Oct. 11 1999.
To learn more about Sandra Nichols, log on to: ReElectSandra.com
© Sandra Nichols 2004