Enough already

Happy Friday.

Regular readers probably noticed a large gap in postings this week. I’m trying to decide if the headache I’ve had is from the flu I came down with on Monday or the discussion about Charter Schools over on Lauren Do’s Site. The discussion is a classic of what happens to passionate discussions about issues in Alameda. Things quickly devolve from a passionate discussion about issues and facts into a name-calling, insinuation-flinging, migraine-fest.

My guess is that more people have chosen to opt-out of this issue after reading the 78 comments from 20 different commentators (a full 1/3 by one person). And that’s just one post. There have been several posts on the subject and they have all deteriorated into sludge. There have been some new voices stepping into the Charter/Parcel Tax discussion, which is really nice to see. It’s also interesting to watch many of them become co-opted by the stridency of the tone on these comment threads. It’s incremental, but you can see it happen every time.

New person joins the discussion, calls for reason/rational discussion. New Person is jumped on by 2 or 3 trolls who just want to stir the pot. New Person defends herself, points out the ridiculousness of what’s been said. New Person jumped on again. New Person gets snippy and we’re off to the races.

I have been thinking about the discussion, while not writing about it, and I was ready to post today on the topic, but Mike Rich wrote beat me to what I wanted to say, and he said it in one sentence, when it would have taken me 4 or 5 paragraphs:

Perhaps there is a way to both acknowledge that school choice is a valid consideration, while also arguing that such considerations don’t surmount the impact on traditional schools.

To me, this is the larger issue. Clearly there’s bad blood between ACLC and AUSD which has carried over into some of the supporters of each, but stepping back from that and addressing charters in general, something that I think this community should do, one needs to address a couple of fundamental issues.

First, does Alameda want to maintain neighborhood elementary schools despite the fact that are indeed more expensive to operate than larger, more disparate schools? I say yes, both for myself and for the vast majority of Alamedans with children, and it’s something that makes Alameda’s schools unique.

Second, is there a major problem with the existing schools? The evidence that there might be sounds pretty anecdotal. I haven’t seen anybody make the case that AUSD is providing a bad education to elementary school kids. Certainly I have both read and heard stories of families that didn’t feel well served. But this idea that AUSD is failing our children, a comment I’ve seen in numerous places, is outright unfounded in my opinion. (This isn’t to suggest that AUSD is the right place for every child)

Third, can things be improved? Show me somewhere that they can’t be.

Fourth, what are the financial implications? No matter how you look at it, starting an elementary school charter is going to diminish the money available to AUSD for the remainder of their schools. Because AUSD has small neighborhood elementary schools, the impacts of any new charter school will be spread across all these schools, 20 first graders at any new charter will come 2 or 3 from each existing school which doesn’t result in any staffing changes at the existing schools. In the end without redefining the overall structure of the AUSD system, there is no way to easily accommodate this reduction in funding, except to cut services for all kids.

Fifth, are there ways to address the issues raised by concerned parents? I’d say both yes and the district is/was on a path to doing this. We have a new-ish superintendent who has yet to not-complete something she’s said she was starting. There is already a process to identify ways to address these issues. Charter Schools may be one way. Magnet schools may be another. Perhaps taking our time is not a bad thing (I have two kids in school now, so I get the “let’s do it tomorrow so my kids don’t lose out” argument)

Lastly, and this is the hard one that Mike R. brings up. Is it possible that charter schools can be good (I’d say in some cases yes) and that they can have a detrimental financial effect on the district as a whole (again, yes) and therefore both communities (AUSD and any proposed Charter School) have a moral obligation to consider this in a year (or years) that massive budget cuts are being made to the district (another yes)? I’m not really sure how one can say “no” to that. Except to talk about leaps of faith and blowing up the system, neither of which are remarkably good public policy.

So in the end, the point (yes, there is a point after all of this) is that there are many views and most of them are not wrong (I’m pretty sure that there are a couple that are). Perhaps everyone can take a step back, look at the big picture, express their ideas respectfully and then agree to disagree and work passionately to fulfill their ideals with at least a modicum of understanding of where those who disagree with them are coming from.

At the end of the day, this nasty bickering does nothing but keep people from getting involved.

2 comments for “Enough already

  1. March 14, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Hi John – Hope you’re feeling better. In 2006 I wrote an op-ed piece for the Alameda Journal which decried this very situation. I argued then and continue to argue now that, collectively, we Alamedans have allowed the quality of our municipal debates to really fall apart. It’s almost like Karl Rove set up an attack dog training school here. For about a dozen or so folks in this town, it’s not good enough to just win the argument. No, it’s not a real rhetorical victory until you’ve brought your opponent to his or her knees, pleading for mercy at that. And, if you can’t win on the merits, take ‘em down by getting personal and by bringing their ancestry into question. “Winning” is all that matters to these people.
    As I’ve written about recently in my own blog, http://www.bapolitix.blogspot.com, the problem with this is that our political environment becomes dangerously toxic. Only the heartiest, thick-skinned souls will volunteer or run for office — and this is happening at a time when we need, forgive me, “our best and brightest” to step forward and get involved in municipal affairs. As a city we need to seriously think about the quality of our municipal debates. We need to remember that members of our City Council, boards and commissions are just volunteers. We need to be more supportive and respectful of the ideas of other folks — even if those ideas might not be terribly well researched or thought out. We need to get to a place where we do more “agreeing to disagree” and where civility and basic manners governs our discourse. Thanks for bringing this issue up.

  2. ChrisO
    March 14, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I stumbled upon this. I agree with you 100%.

    - one of the newbies that has read the blog for a while – but has finally decided to post.

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