Imagine the following dialogue between a new homeowner in Palo Alto and a school board member.
Board Member: “Congratulations, you’ve just bought a home in Palo Alto. Now your children will attend a fantastic school and receive a great education!”.
Homeowner: “Yes, that’s why we looked so hard for a house in Palo Alto. One of the attractions was that the PAUSD offers more than just a core curriculum, including Art, Science, and Foreign Language.”
Board Member: “Yes, our fundraising group run by parents helps support the arts and sciences. Years ago we established a policy to promote centralized fundraising in our district, so that all schools would benefit from these programs, even though our budget cannot cover the full costs.”
Homeowner: “Wonderful. I also hear that children can learn Mandarin.”
Board Member: “Yes, I voted to establish our Mandarin Immersion program.”
Homeowner: “So my neighborhood school teaches Mandarin?”
Board Member: “Well, no. Your child has to win a lottery to be taught Mandarin”.
Homeowner: “What? I thought this was a public school district, where all children were provided an equal education.”
Board Member: “No, of course not. This is Silicon Valley. We promote the core values of luck and chance. After all, not all start-ups succeed, and there’s plenty of luck involved. So we might as well teach our children the real-world values. Why would we educate all the students? I mean, how many fluent Mandarin speakers do we need?
Homeowner: “Well, I suppose. Is there a PAUSD goal to establish a target number of bi-lingual students?”
Board Member: “Actually, there’s no PAUSD goal related to foreign language at the elementary level. But we’ll have forty per grade level graduating each year. That’s about five percent of our children.”
Homeowner: “But if foreign language was not a PAUSD Strategic Goal, why did the board divert resources from other important priorities to establish a program for a select few?”
Board Member: “Well, the budget’s always tight, and a group of parents came forward and waived money at us.”
Homeowner: “But my understanding of District policy was to promote centralized fundraising, so that benefits would be fairly distributed across all schools.”
Board Member: “Well, we’re already rewarding students who are lucky enough to win the lottery, so we figured we might as well charge them for it.”
Homeowner: “So if I’m lucky enough to win the lottery, where does my child go to school?”
Board Member: “Oh, you’d drive across town, where there used to be a neighborhood school.”
Homeowner: “Hmm. I’m not sure I’d want to deal with the traffic. Besides, pickup and dropoff must cause serious safety issues. Is there a program to promote car pooling?”
Board Member: ”Be serious, nobody in Palo Alto carpools. Besides, traffic and safety issues aren’t very interesting anyway. What’s important is that we can offer a special program to a few lucky students. I want to achieve something important in my tenure as a board member. New programs, new language offerings, maybe some kind of award…. Besides, if the current schools just continue the same old boring excellence, I won't get any credit for it. I had to drive to school, so why shouldn't everybody?”
Homeowner: “I guess that does sound exciting. But I do wish my child could attend a local school and still benefit the same as the other students. What about science programs?”
Board Member: “Oh, we do that by lottery also. We figured the world didn’t need that many scientists, so we select a few while they’re in kindergarten and immerse them heavily. That way we’ll raise our chances of having a Nobel Prize winner from a Palo Alto school. Besides, the average citizen doesn’t become a scientist, so why provide that opportunity for everybody?”
Homeowner: “Well, thanks for the information. I guess the core values of the PAUSD are much different than I thought.”