Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 9, 2008

Juxtapose this

“Times like these call for big ideas and cooperation, but that’s not what we’re seeing in the school district. Instead, we’re seeing petty complaints that serve as distractions from the important issues our community faces.” ~ Morgan Hill Times editorial published Dec. 5, 2008

“Let’s not get sidetracked with the state budget debacle. The main problem with the current school district administration is in the area of teacher relations.” ~ Letter to the Morgan Hill Times editor from retired teacher Carol Ferri published Dec. 5, 2008

Juxtaposition can be very enlightening. The editorial page of Friday’s Morgan Hill Times was a case in point.

The newspaper’s editorial board – of which I’m a member – says the big problem facing the Morgan Hill Unified School District is how to educate the district’s students in an era of ever-shrinking resources.

Ferri, a retired MHUSD teacher, says the big problem facing the school district is poor administration-teacher relations.

MHUSD teachers are working without a new contract while negotiations drag on. As negotiations lag, the economic environment in which the district is operating has gone from bad to worse to dire.

California legislators, who passed a tardy smoke-and-mirrors state budget a few months ago, are facing the fiscal music sooner than they expected, thanks to the subprime mortgage meltdown that’s fueling an unprecedented economic crisis around the world.

With a looming $28 billion budget gap, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a fiscal emergency, warned that the state could run out of cash by March, is considering issuing IOUs instead of checks for vendors and predicts cuts to the state education budget. Meanwhile, municipalities up and down the state – including Gilroy and Morgan Hill – are laying off employees, slashing services and searching for ways to raise revenue.

Given all of that, it’s hard to take seriously the claim that teacher relations are the “main problem” facing the MHUSD, and it’s laughable to relegate the state budget crisis to “sidetrack” status.

I understand that many situations in the local school district are far from perfect. I’m familiar with many examples both at school sites and the district office.

But we’re facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis that requires us to shift paradigms in order to deal successfully with it. We can all work together to get through this as painlessly and as quickly as possible, or we can cling to the past in the vain hope that things will return to the way they once were.

We see an example of this in the auto industry. While innovators were busy creating and perfecting new automotive technologies and better ways to build them, US automakers seemed to think that the era of the gas-guzzling, high-profit-margin SUV would never end.

It has and the prescription for rescuing the American automobile industry requires a paradigm shift, according to CNBC:

Some brands may have to go, production of some components and parts may have to move offshore, and a completely new approach is needed to labor negotiations with the United Auto Workers.

Similarly, I believe that our public education model, at least here in California, desperately needs a paradigm shift. My prescription includes plugging Prop 13 loopholes that allow business sales of real property to be made without new assessments (good luck trying to get the same break when you buy or sell a house), instituting merit pay, redesigning superintendents’ contracts to eliminate golden parachutes and to allow school boards greater hiring and firing flexibility, and eliminating or dramatically reworking No Child Left Behind.

This economic crisis – as full of stress and pain as it is – is also an opportunity to dramatically overhaul broken systems that we thought that we were stuck with and to replace them with innovative, more efficient, more transparent and more accountable programs.

If taxpayer dollars are used to bail out the auto industry, that’s what I expect to get for my investment.

Similarly, here in California, we have an opportunity with this crisis to create innovative, more efficient, more transparent and more accountable school districts to educate our children.

Better teacher-administration relations would be lovely. But that’s hardly at the top of our community’s to-do list, given the fiscal crisis that our district, our state, our nation, and the world are facing.

A wise man once observed that “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Let’s not waste this one.



  1. Caliornia needs to eliminate Prop 13 — not just its property tax cap, but more importantly the legislative super-majority requirement for the state to raise revenue.

    I also question whether the federal government should pick up the tab for California’s refusal to tax its own wealth.

    I’ve recently written about this at:

    I’d love to hear your comments.

    Michael Fox

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