New Encinal Project Equals Boondoggle

To think that by 2021, Encinal High School (EHS) will have new and improved fire alarms, public address system and — hold on to your Barcaloungers — new door locks. Talk about thinking outside the box — I simply swoon. 

Let this remind us that not all progress in California takes place in Silicon Valley. Prior to the legalization of marijuana, could any educational planners have dreamed up such a futuristic master plan for EHS?

Gazing at the architects’ visionary drawing, the discerning eye can pick up on the subtle nuances of difference between the old EHS and the radically modernized old EHS. The clairvoyant depiction of the modernized 200-classroom wing shows no litter, ironically no trash cans either and only four loitering students. One wonders if these students should be in class or is this a prescient depiction of what reduced enrollment will look like during lunch period? Perhaps we should be doing more to close off the escape routes from public education. 

While there is plenty of coverage of the “new and improved,” yet there is no mention of the campus boundaries expanding one millimeter, nary a nanometer in any direction; nor does the footprint of the 200-classroom wing increase from a size 9 to a size 10.

Adjacent to the cramped and crimped Encinal campus lie acres and acres of underutilized real estate devoid of any infrastructure other than concrete and macadam paving.

With the right bureaucrats and motivated educrats duking it out at a bargaining table or the 1400 Club’s mahogany bar, that former Navy land could be turned over to Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) free of charge. Even at those kinds of prices, that would be real progress instead of the merely hypnotic, metronomic swing of the educational pendulum. 

Imagine the caliber of leadership that could effect such an extraordinary coup. Specifically, on former Alameda Naval Air Station turf, immediately to the west of EHS is a parking lot used for police and fire department training and a row of trailers.

The trailers were once Avionics Trainers used by a Naval Maintenance Facility. The base closed 22 years ago in 1995. These trailers are detritus graciously left by the Navy. They will not be swinging by to pick them up one day.

Bring in one Caterpillar D-7 under the cover of darkness and turn it loose for one night — without the spring-loaded, objecting scrutiny of the usual contrarian obstructionists — and you could double the size of the EHS campus without toppling one asbestos-infested building. 

Now that would be thinking outside the box rather than thinking, hand-wringing and cowering inside the postage stamp. Presently, $42 million of the public debt incurred by the fatuous approval of Measure 1 in November of 2014, is being lavished on the exact same postage stamp.

Ignoring the spirit of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka (1954) Encinal has only one gymnasium while Alameda High has two.Presently the music department, the drama department, boys’ volleyball, badminton, post season boys’ and girls’ basketball and Alameda Youth Basketball all vie for time slots in one gymnasium.

Why not bring the much-touted equity issue to the AUSD forefront? Two gyms for each high school? Who would have thunk it? The one city block allotted to the EHS campus has barely enough room for a baseball diamond and a football field, but wait, both of these facilities are used for boys’ sports.

Expansion westward, onto free real estate, could provide a soccer field and a softball field, but alas, both of these facilities are used for girls’ sports presently exiled off campus.

If AUSD can ignore intent of Brown v. the School Board, it would follow that AUSD can safely ignore the spirit of Title IX for Women’s Sports as passed in 1972. Perhaps AUSD is reluctant to build a women’s softball field and a women’s soccer field because they would have to pay someone to cut the grass. Where are the feminists when you need them?

In academic year 2013-2014, 43.22 percent of the AUSD budget was spent on teacher pay, in academic year 2018-2019 that figure was successfully whittled down to 36.26 percent. The difference was absorbed by the educational mavens safely basking in the insouciant sinecures and lucrative, six-figure, administrative slots at AUSD headquarters.

Never underestimate a governing body’s sense of self-importance. Only someone saddled with an objective mind would question such fiscal priorities, blithe extravagances and fiduciary caprices.

Some school districts are judged by such mundane metrics as educational achievement; other districts by the impeccable standards of their superintendents and upper echelon of tony apparatchiks.

As we used to say in the Navy, “An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance.” But when and where do education dollars get spent on imagination, creativity, critical thinking, productivity, real progress and bold bureaucratic chutzpah? AUSD has great medical and vision plans, but when and where can AUSD planners receive treatment for their myopia, presbyopia and tunnel vision?

 

Lt. Comm. Jeffrey R Smith, U.S. Navy Ret., teaches mathematics at Encinal High School.