Outsiders Must Bring Something to Table

John Zugnoni’s letter to the editor (“Allow Oakland Students Here,” June 13) is obviously written from a perspective external to public education in general, and outside of public education in Alameda in particular.

Zugnoni worries that Encinal High School (EHS) might close if out-of-district students are not available to fluff up the average daily allowance (ADA) at EHS. Were Zugnoni familiar with the recent history of the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) he would have known that the highly successful academic commensalism that existed for 20 years between ACLC and EHS was terminated because of insufficient classroom space for the students of the new Junior Jet Program, ACLC and EHS collectively.

Regardless of how successful the Junior Jet Program proves to be academically, it was instrumental in routing ACLC from the EHS campus: one small victory over academic excellence. The vote to approve Junior Jets was the same vote that ended the highly successful symbiosis between ACLC and EHS and put ACLC on a collision course with academic interests at Wood Middle School and relegated ACLC to an itinerate status. 

Additionally, the ouster of ACLC devolved a highly popular and successful charter school — from a superlative learning center that was annually forced to turn away 100-200 students on the “Waiting for Superman” list, hoping to win the entrance lottery — to a school that now has to recruit for its survival. Is crimping academic success really progress?

Zugnoni’s math is also flawed. Were “Alameda’s allocation of funds from the state of California” sufficient to cover all expenses associated with educating students, Zugnoni’s math might have made sense. But, when state funding falls short of the per-capita cost of educating students, each student contributes to a deficit that must be made up for via austerities, parcels taxes — levied on Alameda residents only — and bond issues — to be repaid by Alameda. 

As any mathematician or business person will tell you, multiplying a negative number by a larger positive number still results in a negative product. How can cost cutting measures like eliminating vocational education programs or creating larger deficits be construed as “a better use of taxpayer dollars?”

As a teacher at EHS it is obvious that not all out-of-district students are keenly interested in the academics. To be absolutely and unequivocally clear, I fully support out-of-district transfers into AUSD; the more the better. That being said, the situation should be win-win. AUSD’s academic record improves and the out-of-district students’ academic records improve.

Out-of-district students should be required to maintain, at a minimum, a 3.0 grade point average (GPA). Additionally out-of-district students should not contribute to the administrative workload. A well lubricated revolving door should operate for students involved in truancy, chronic tardiness, altercations, cheating, stealing, vandalism and disruptive behavior. 

Revocation of inter-district opportunities should not involve multiple warnings, wrist slaps and protracted probationary periods. Simply, “Save the bus fare.”

Finally keeping EHS afloat with out-of-district students in order to sustain a sports rival for Alameda High? Admittedly “the crowds at Alameda-Encinal games … generate more — by far — proceeds” at the gate but should increased ticket sales at Island Bowls be factored into AUSD’s decision-making process? What about popcorn sales?

Public schools exist to ensure every child has the opportunity for a decent, hopefully useful, education. Public schools are instrumental in maintaining a prosperous civil society. Beyond addressing this mandate, why should schools be sustained artificially; particularly for the sake of sports spectacles? 

Like any social service, public education should expand and contract to meet the needs of the community it serves — i.e. the needs of the community which pays for it.

Jeffrey R Smith teaches math at Encinal High School.