Questions remain about Measure M
Published: October 26, 2012
By Michelle Kolbeck
Michelle Kolbeck has served 14 years on the elementary board, and all nine of her children attended Santa Paula public schools.
A recent full page ad for Measure M claims more state money, one coordinated curriculum, one board, one superintendent, and one calendar if two of the five school districts unify. Measure M promises more state money, but does not look at the costs of unifying and the ongoing cost of leveling up all of the salaries. There are no hard numbers as to how much unification will save. Obviously, the salary of one superintendent, but of any other administrators? What and who will be cut to “streamline”? What are the upfront and long-term costs? How will the new district pay back the start up costs when the state is making drastic educational cuts across the board?
We do know that unification means fewer board members. Mupu, Briggs, and Santa Clara have 9 board members for less than 1000 students. With unification, there will be 5 board members for 5300 students. Presently 5 board members give their undivided attention to the 3600 elementary children. But is the extra expense—about $1.38 per hour—worth it?
The needs of high school and elementary students are very different. High school students profit from specialized academics for students to be ready for college and AP classes. There are full athletic programs with decent facilities, equipment, and coaches along with student organizations, programs for drama, music, and art, mock trial teams, etc.
Elementary students need the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. They need small classes, especially since two-thirds of the elementary children are English language learners. They need early intervention and after-school day-care. Also 14% of the elementary students have special needs, requiring separate and individual programs.
Presently each district receives funds to meet these two distinct student populations. Currently $32 million is available to SPESD and $12 million to SPUHS. Since the elementary schools have about two-thirds of the students, this allocation is sensible. With separate boards, this proportion cannot change. With one board, the elementary and the high school would compete for a combined $46 million budget. Independent research has shown that in most unified districts, 70% of the budget goes to the high schools. Elementary class sizes could increase to 33-1, which means a loss of young, qualified teachers. SPESD now has 25-1, one of the lowest in the county. Is the loss of individual attention to children in their most formative years worth the money saved by unification?
Are there any benefits to spending more? Losses not doing so? No one makes financial decisions by choosing what costs the least. Who owns the least expensive house or car? Do the advocates of Measure M oppose “Shop Santa Paula”? Or do they ask people to spend more? Businesses do cost-benefit analysis, not just spend the least possible. Have we done an in-depth, long range one for unification? If not, why not?
What’s the evidence that there are problems Measure M will fix? Is there a lack of curricular coordination now? The state wholly sets the elementary and high school curricula—including the texts. Measure M can’t change that; why are we being told it can? What present problems in making the transition from middle to high school will Measure M fix? Do we need Measure M just to get a common calendar? A phone call might do. If there are serious problems, why isn’t the charge being led by teachers, Board members, and parents of students?
There is a huge push for Measure M. Yet there is no actual estimate of what amount might be saved. No indication where cuts might be made. No consideration of what is lost by spending less. No evidence that things are not working. No public outcry from our SPUHS teachers, administrators, or the parents of SPUHS students. What is going on?