Wednesday, December 17, 2008

school boards' face the impossible

I attended our local school board meeting last night to hear the latest in heartbreaking discussions of what to cut from the budget. This has been a resounding theme in our district, and many others for several years. Of course, we live in California, a state which, with the 7th largest economy in the world has the worst budgeting process in the world as far as I can tell. Still with our schools in 47th out of 50th in funding, we are still trying hard to reach 51 (allowing Puerto Rico to pass us). 

And our courageous Republican minority is still holding the budget hostage (we have a super majority rule here, so that two thirds of the state legislature has to pass the budget) insisting that they will not, not, not raise taxes. It might, they insist, hurt the economy. 

And it is not just the Republican minority in the state legislature. Parcel taxes in our district have failed the last three times we attempted to campaign. People were buying new SUVs and Wii's and wide screen digital TVs and voting down parcel taxes. I guess all that spending was good for the economies of the companies manufacturing these goods-- like Sony, Toyota and GMC. At least American car companies benefitted from all our spending right? And it provided good jobs, with full minimum wage jobs and no benefits or security for retail workers at good retail outlets. 

But I am confused. 

Our govenor lowered taxes, as promised in his campaign to recall the previous govenor, and the economy does not really seem to have gotten better in the last couple years...

Hmmm. So i want to try and think this through. Cut the budget further and what are the results? More people lose their jobs and can't make their mortgages. More homes go into foreclosure. More banks struggle. There are no jobs right now, so more people need general assistance, medicaid and food stamps, (which are also being cut, in order I guess to stimulate the economy) Shelters and food banks are already overwhelmed so I guess those newly homeless people will just have to live under the bridges, which actually are kind of crowded right now...

so how does all this budget cutting help,  exactly?  Any one?

We have already had, for years, kids going around the neighborhood, standing in lines at the grocery store and at the transit stations begging for donations or selling candy and gum to support music, art, sports, and yes, inconceivably even science programs for school. Every time I see them, I am ashamed. I am ashamed of my community, my state and my country. We should be taking care of this, not them. Why are our children forced to walk the streets begging for money for their schools? That seems fiscally irresponsible. Or some kind of irresponsible. 

I am proud to pay my taxes. I would pay more. The amount of money we pay in property taxes would not even cover tuition for one of my children in private school, much less three. And that tax money is supposed to cover a lot of other things, like 911 services, road building, medical and dental insurance for children...

In the Monty Python lampoon the The Life of Brian, they lampooned the anti-government stance. "What have the Romans ever done for us?" asks one of the revolutionaries of Judea. The others chime in, "Well, aqueducts." The first guy pauses, and says, "Well, besides aqueducts!?" After some arguing back and forth the list comes to include most of civilization: aqueducts, schools, sewers, health care, roads, trade... and so on. And after the long list, the first guy finally says, "Yeah, but besides all that?"

So besides dams and aqueducts, navigable harbors and water ways, vector control, health care for children, the elderly and disabled, k-12 schools community colleges and universities, roads, bridges, street lights, public utilities management, pollution regulation, public safety, fire fighters, ambulances, trauma centers, parks and recreation services, water treatment and sewage, farmers markets, street sweeping... what the heck are we getting for our tax dollars? Yeah, but besides that...

I am proud to pay my taxes and do my bit. I wish to never see another homeless family, another homeless veteran, another mentally ill person soiled and sitting in a doorway, another child with bad teeth or another student begging for money for her school. It would be worth not getting my kids an X-Box for that. Maybe they would even get some exercise and read without one. I wonder what others would give up.  And get. If we did. 

Fund the schools. Some day this generation of kids will grow up. And I don't think they will forget what we did when it was our turn to be responsible for them.