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Guest Opinion: Where Does ABCUSD Go Now?

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By Gavin Riley

Whenever prospective home buyers are looking, their checklist of most important considerations, located somewhere between square footage and kitchen amenities, is the local school system.

For years realtors have loved to promote the ABC School District where the quality of education in its renowned schools drives up home prices 5 to 10 percent.  Led by bell weather Whitney High, which every year ranks among the best in the country and the only five time national Blue Ribbon school, along with overall academic excellence, ABC is a source of community pride.

One would think this pride, coupled with the perfect environment of historically low interest rates and the need to bring schools all at least forty years old into the 21st century, was the ideal moment to pass a school bond measure.

Over a hundred other school districts agreed and 80% of them passed bonds including all of the districts around ABC.  Shockingly, the bond measure here did not pass or even come close.

Everyone agrees that the schools need major upgrading but the big question is, “What does the district do in this aftermath?”

There is no shortage of explanations about why the bond failed in a place where the schools are revered.

It was apathy, as the 31% turnout showed.

It was complacency, including a city council member saying test scores were high already and upgrading wasn’t needed.

It was misinformation, with a former school board member declaring in an op-ed that employees received an average of $30,000 each in pay raises over the last two years.

It was the aging population on fixed income whose children had already gone thru school and did not feel obligated.

It was the general dislike for taxation… and many more.

Add to this fact free websites and you have the recipe for the outcome.  This does not explain how other districts facing the same headwinds were successful or how this reality will be addressed in any future bond measure.

Other solutions besides a bond have come forward but all of them amount to educational quackery.

A suggestion to close schools and sell the land in some of the other six cities served by ABC doesn’t raise much money, is a long drawn out process, and has a NIMBY tinge to it.

Throwing inter-district students out is both illegal and immoral to say nothing of costing far more in state student revenue than could be saved.

Cutting salaries (beyond the phantom $30,000) in a district that already struggles to remain competitive salary wise is an open invitation to a mass exodus of the talented staff achieving all that academic success.

Merging ABC with one of the surrounding school districts is as dopey as it sounds, although ironically since they all passed bond issues our community would assume their bond obligation as the price to be adopted.

Sadly, in the absence of any useful ideas the finger pointing has begun in earnest.

One local website that opposed the bond published a “hit list” of supporters they intend to get even with.

The School Board majority bypassed a leadership position for the one board member who opposed the bond figuring that having dished the advice of the district management, how could that person be effective in leading and being its public face.

Wolfing about who was tearing down yard signs during the election is the only dialogue going on.

Meanwhile, the future of 21,000 students is ignored.

The simple truth is, ABC must go after a school facilities bond again in 2016, the next time it is possible.  There is no “Plan B” or one would be implemented somewhere by now.  The state already pays 85% of the cost of educating ABC students under Proposition 98 and Governor Brown has stated clearly that state matching funds to fix schools as was done in ABC in 1997 after a much smaller bond was passed is not an option any longer.

The local public needs to understand that a valuable asset like a local school district needs constant upgrading or it becomes a liability.  The language of education which once was calculators and textbooks has been replaced by bandwidth, networks and chrome books, all more expensive and ever changing.

Gavin Riley is chief negotiator for the California Federation of Teachers and a retired ABC Unified School District teacher.

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