‘From the Trenches’ Item Reprinted Entirely


Ever notice how the Colorado River serves as an excellent metaphor for public school funding in California?

The Colorado starts out at an elevation of 10,184 feet above sea level, at the continental divide: more specifically La Poudre Pass. Prior to 1960, had you stood at the very summit of La Poudre Pass, and — heaven forbid — poured a can of Coors onto the ground, six ounces of that beer would have eventually reached the Gulf of Mexico and six ounces might have reached the Gulf of California.

Today, you could still perform the beer experiment but, due to intensive water consumption, the Colorado no longer actually crosses the Mexican border at San Luis Rio Colorado nor does it enter the Gulf of California at Isla Montague.South of the border, you can cross the final 100 miles of the Colorado river — if you can find it — wearing socks, and not get your feet wet.

To compensate Mexico for having consumed all the water, the United States has generously funded the construction of desalination plants to make up for the shortfall.Of course, Mexico has to provide electricity to operate the plants, but they also get to drink all the desalinated water they can hold.

Funding for public education follows a similar route.

Revenue extorted via property tax, from the entire California water shed, fills a reservoir maintained by well-intentioned and well-paid bureaucrats in Sacramento.

Overall spending for California public education — not necessarily public schools — totals approximately $76.6 billion when California revenues are blended in with funds panhandled from the federal government.

Naturally, not all of that $76.6 billion actually leaves Sacramento; bureaucracies that count and distribute large sums of money often have sticky fingers. From Sacramento, deep irrigation ditches radiate outward to all school districts; the state magnanimously gives back to districts a portion of what was raked off of them.

Acording to Sacramento’s Public Affairs Battalion, “the State Department Education oversees funding and testing, and holds local educational agencies accountable for student achievement. Its stated mission is to provide leadership, assistance, oversight and resources so that every Californian has access to a good education.”

As a former Navy public affairs officer, I read this mission statement and I swoon. Last year, my school had a 37 percent pass rate on the 11th grade state-wide math test. Has the state sent an accountability investigator to ask any questions?

Some 80 percent of California high school graduates take remedial math, repeating high school math, when they attend a junior college; 60 percent of high school graduates will take remedial math before taking college math at a four-year school.

If we can trust the San Jose Mercury News, it reported, “Education leaders in recent years have lauded achievement gains and progress of California’s K-12 students, but an annual national report card has rated the Golden State below mediocre … California’s poor grade remains the same year over year.”

Recently a principal touted the parameter, “Forty-four percent of our students who go off to college, earn a degree within seven years.” As Lawrence Welk used to say, “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.” And “44 percent” could almost be “wonderful” were it not for the national average standing at 47 percent.

Thanks to the largesse of the California Teachers’ Association and the National Education Association, well-placed campaign contributions and effective lobbying have convinced decision makers that vouchers and expanded charter school access are morally wrong.

Perhaps the question is, why does Alameda have to occupy the same substrata as the rest of the state? Why can’t we do something unique? Why can’t the school district break out of the box? Is an edu-battalion of administrators really necessary? None of my students know who the superintendent is, nor who the chief student support officer is; are they really as essential to public education as their remuneration would indicate?

The Colorado river analogy captures the funding situation nicely. The fiscal river seems to stop, not at the southern border, but at the threshold of the classroom. Even the library has a tip jar.


Editor’s note: Due to a production error the end of this article did not appear last week.

Jeffrey R. Smith teaches mathematics at Encinal High School. He can be reached at jeffreyrsmith@aol.com.