My Life of Crime

Tomorrow is Election Day, and practically the only things on our ballot are a bond measure to support our underfunded community colleges, and a parcel tax to support our underfunded schools. I have no idea whether or not they will pass. The last parcel tax for the schools, which is expiring, passed by one vote. Without this new one, our district will have to lay off 13 teachers.

This is all-too-familiar territory for me. In my hometown in Georgia, the schools were desperately underfunded too. But whenever anyone so much as breathed the word “tax,” a flurry of orange signs declaring “Say No to More Taxes” would spring up in every public area in town like a crop of poisonous mushrooms. It always puzzled me, as the cost of producing those signs had to have been greater than the $30 tax increase the measure would entail. But the signs apparently worked, because year after year, whatever measure was proposed to help the schools would stand about as much chance as Kim Kardashian becoming the next president (although for all I know, that could actually happen).

One year, when my friends and I were in high school, we went on a vandalism rampage, carefully editing the signs to make them read things like “Say No to More Taxis,” “Say Now to Move Texas,” and “Say NaNoo to Mork.” I’m ashamed to admit it now. It was juvenile and petty, and didn’t accomplish anything, but at the time it was a small and satisfying bit of vengeance on the people who didn’t seem to care about our future or the future of our town.

I’m sad to say that my hometown has not fared well over the years. When I was growing up, it was the kind of friendly, nosy Southern town you see in movies. The biggest front page scandals I remember were someone putting a dead possum in a city councilwoman’s car, and a pair of brothers demanding that a dog named Benji be exhumed from the local cemetery because their grandmother was buried there. Now the local paper is full of drug crimes and murders. The crime index in 2009 was 532, 228 points higher than the national average.

Did the lack of support for the schools cause the increase in crime? Well, I’m sure it was not the only factor. But it certainly didn’t help.

What depresses me now is that the schools in Pacifica, California where we live now, and where my son is a student, arguably need the money more than the schools I attended in Georgia. Growing up, I always remember our school having an assistant principal (usually rumored to possess an impressive number of paddles, some with spikes), an art teacher, and a music teacher, who taught us to square dance. (To this day, I can still remember the calls: “Swing that girl around the square. Swing that girl with the rats in her hair.”) Sure, we often had PE coaches teaching less important subjects like science and social studies, but they were REAL PE coaches.

My son’s school does not have an assistant principal. It has one principal, who somehow has to manage all the problems that crop up on a daily basis when you have 540 students ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade. We have one janitor (you can imagine the state of the bathrooms). The janitor often doubles as the school nurse, which we also do not have. Music, art, drama and PE are taught by parent volunteers, at least in the lower grades. In recent years, the class sizes for Kindergarten through 3rd grade have increased to 24 kids, and they’ve had to create split classes (a Kindergarten/First grade class and a Second/Third grade class) in order to get by with fewer teachers.

And yet, in spite of all of that, it is a great school. The teachers are phenomenal (the only upside I can think of to the current state of education is that you know that all the teachers who are working in the public schools are there because they really care about the kids). Also the parents all work together to do their best to fill in the gaps, which gives our school a real sense of community.

But I can’t imagine what will happen if Measure L doesn’t pass. What more can they possibly cut? How many kids will they cram into the classrooms? 30? 35? If they do, I will be tempted to personally escort 30 Kindergarteners to Sacramento and leave them in the Governor’s office for a day.

These local school measures should not be necessary. They should never have been necessary. No matter what side of the political fence you fall on, if our country is truly to be a Land of Opportunity, education is one thing we should all agree on. We need GREAT schools, not decent schools, not getting-by schools, but GREAT schools, the best in the world, so that every kid, everywhere, no matter what their background, has a chance to succeed.

But, until that happens, I will just have to hope for Measure L. I’ve tried to do my part, in legitimate ways this time, by precinct walking and donating to the campaign. But I have to admit that every time I drive past the one “No L” sign on Highway 1, I am tempted to pull out a marker. If I put a strategic letter “E” in there, it could become a cheery Christmas sign. But I’ll refrain, and hope for the best.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kim
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 01:26:09

    Never be ashamed of acts of hilarity. What rebels we were…


    • ash
      Nov 09, 2011 @ 20:35:58

      I know! The funny thing is that the next time a school referendum rolled around, my mom decided to tackle those signs herself. She called up the police and asked if it was legal to put political signs all over the public areas. The police said they didn’t know. She said, “Well, is it legal to take them down?” The police person said, “I guess so.” So she and the other teachers loaded up their cars. The next day, the vote no signs were way up on the utility poles, but the people who posted them got in trouble for that. That was the one year that the school initiative actually passed.


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