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October 05, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Guest Opinion: Driving past the unfinished bridge ... our schools? Guest Opinion: Driving past the unfinished bridge ... our schools? (October 05, 2005)

by Liz Simons

When I was 8 or 9 years old and riding the bus for a half hour to my private elementary school in Long Island, we'd pass an unfinished bridge.

It was a solid-looking concrete structure that stretched up and a little over the freeway but then stopped short, as if the builder had suddenly been called away. Every day I'd look to see if any progress had been made, but nothing ever changed.

One day it was torn down, becoming a huge pile of rubble.

My daughter, a sophomore at Palo Alto High School, never had as much looking-out-the-window-time as I did. Her excellent public schools were always within easy walking or biking distance from our home. And after the passage of Measure A and the unusually good returns from last year's property taxes, it looks as if maybe she'll finish up her years at Paly with classes that aren't gargantuan and teachers who have time and energy to give her the attention that all students deserve.

But "maybe" seems to be the key word here, as Weekly readers have lately been reminded. The Sept. 23 article about Partners in Education, "Another Slice of the PiE," and the Sept. 28 article, "Are We Losing Our Edge?" both highlighted our need to keep giving to the schools from which we expect so much.

The Sept. 23 (PiE) piece emphasized what many of us parents already know: Our schools have been slammed over the past several years, with administrators having to cope with more and more students and the vagaries of property tax revenues, which plunged in recent years, and to which we as a basic aid district are so vulnerable.

The article mentioned that the district's highly prized class-size-reduction program now costs $7 million a year due to the rising expenses of benefits, salaries, and utilities. Most of Measure A's funds have already been allocated to pay for this program, as well as school librarians, counselors and support staff -- positions that were actually cut but now, thankfully, are being reinstated.

In the Sept. 28 article, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group predicts a growing dearth of qualified employees in our area workforce. Panelists warn that unless we keep our focus on education, more of our children will likely end up dependent on external assistance and fewer will be able to compete in today's and tomorrow's ever-more-complex technology-based economies.

The article alludes to the lingering devastation of Proposition 13, and notes that California is still "near the bottom" of public school student spending nationwide.

Our position, therefore, is more precarious than it may appear. We're standing on relatively solid ground now, but we're not far from the brink.

We must accept responsibility for the education and futures of our progeny; and I am more convinced than ever that supporting our schools is the right thing to do. By giving to Partners in Education (PiE), the only fundraising group devoted exclusively to Palo Alto public schools, we can see to it that every child every year has essentials such as small classes, knowledgeable librarians and effective counseling -- all of which, I know as a parent and former teacher, comprise the backbone of our kids' education.

By giving to PiE, we also help ensure a steady supply of up-to-date computers, lab equipment and other technology, without which our science programs would be second-rate, at best.

Perhaps most importantly, by providing our schools with a reliable flow of funds that they can count on year after year, we free up teachers and principals to engage in strategic long-term academic planning, to focus on the job of educating our children rather than fundraising, and to continue to build on what is now in place.

We already have a solid foundation: dedicated teachers and administrators, as well as a cohesive community that is known throughout the nation for the value it places on education.

But we're now at that juncture where we have to decide if we want to finish the job, if we want our students to have the best we can give so they'll be prepared for the ever increasing demands of the real world.

If we don't finish what we started, all our best efforts for our schools may end up in that proverbial pile of rubble that once was somebody's vision of a bridge -- but which became a bridge to nowhere.

Liz Simons is a s volunteer with PiE and as editor of the Kids' newspaper at Duveneck Elementary School. I should mention that I'm not formally affiliated with PiE. She can be e-mailed at liz@vlsicores.com.


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