Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008 | Bronzed letters on La Jolla High School’s stucco buildings at announce the largesse of its parents and alumni: the Nierenberg Family Science and Technology Center, the Coggan Family Aquatic Complex. No plaque hangs over the flag-spangled classroom where Jerry Tellers teaches teens about world history — but it could.
He was slated to lose his job to budget cuts until the Foundation of La Jolla High School ponied up thousands of dollars for his salary. “I’m here because of them,” Tellers said.
Tellers is one of a handful of La Jolla High teachers whose salaries were shouldered by donors after San Diego Unified slashed budgets to balance a roughly $53 million shortfall from the state. Parents and alumni poured more than $500,000 into the storied school last spring through its foundation, rescuing Tellers and a French teacher, a Spanish teacher, and a teacher who taught an academic support class for middling students.
Teens rallied and held a phone-a-thon and adults opened their wallets to pay for teachers, for textbooks, and for staffers to keep its library open and functional. One student even made a tie-dyed “Save Mr. Tellers” T-shirt to goad his classmates to help. Not everything was spared: The school had to drastically pare back the hours of its librarian to one day weekly and bring in “library technicians” for two additional days. Still, the donations averted a crisis for La Jolla High, a coastal school with towering test scores, a sterling reputation, and a lengthy database of alumni.
But with deficits expected to again menace both San Diego Unified and its donors, parents and educators fear that fundraising may not be able to plug the next gap. More and more schools have turned to parents to cover costs that the school district once carried. The growing pressure on school foundations rankles parents and even educators who complain the government is underfunding schools and banking on parents in wealthy areas to make up the difference.
“We’re not supposed to have to raise money to keep our schools open,” said Principal Dana Shelburne.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Vouchers won't solve public school problems. They will exacerbate them. We should be building a sense of the neighborhood school as a community center, where young and old alike come to participate in events that connect them to the health and well-being of the surrounding community. Classes for seniors, multi-generational events, adults tutoring kids, kids tutoring adults (in new technology, for example), brief workshops and seminars on lively topics, health care, and civic issues. When everyone is an active stakeholder in the activities of a school, we do not suffer this generational gap that has caused people without children, or parents whose children are grown, to say "To heck with school taxes. Let the next generation figure out how to pay for their schools."
But equally important to ongoing adequate funding of schools is a district's determination to bring local community members into the decision-making process BEFORE committing millions of dollars to building stadiums, for example, instead of improving the quality of school classrooms and other facilities necessary for learning. The promise the district made when they asked us to pass that bond measure that is building the stadiums is that they would use the money to repair and renovate schools -- and once more, the district has demonstrated it has no intention of keeping promises to taxpayers. And that hurts school funding in the long run.
None of the problems that the solutions proposed above might solve would be helped by vouchers. We must commit ourselves to building trusted relationships between schools and communities and between district administration and taxpayers.