Saturday, February 20, 2010


Fred Brill | Open Forum in the San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, February 19, 2010 -- Please. Slow down and listen before you take up your pitchforks. I am not a monster. I am merely an educator and a parent. I, too, have been complicit in allowing our education system to deteriorate.

The primary focus in education has been "equity" - addressing the low achievement of students of color, students of low socioeconomic status - but profound fiscal challenges are shifting our attention. Public school districts across the state are increasing class sizes, decreasing the length of the school year, eliminating professional development and eviscerating art, music, athletic and summer school programs.

We educators are fish swimming placidly, heedless of the political environment. Or maybe we are frogs in a pot of simmering water.

Maybe it's the unwavering "can-do" attitude of teachers that contributes to the state of affairs.

Raise our class size incrementally to 40? No problem.

No school nurses or counselors? Fine. We'll insert a needle into the thigh of a girl experiencing anaphylaxis, while consoling the boy whose father passed away.

No classroom materials? We'll pay out of pocket.

Fewer custodians? We'll teach in filth.

Cut our benefits? We'll take one for the team.

Maybe it is the parents who are to blame, especially those from wealthy communities. Rather than work to change a dysfunctional educational system, we ask: "What kind of check should we write?" We take care of our own.

Our elected officials struggle to pass a state budget, but they'll impose midyear budget cuts on school districts and delay payments, while refusing to pay interest on hijacked money. Is it ridiculous for the state to fully fund the mandates it imposes?

Our political system requires a two-thirds majority to pass a parcel tax, a tranquilizer we readily swallow to avoid the headache of dealing with the bigger problem. How about a simple majority of voters to impose a tax?

While California is the seventh-largest economy in the world, our per-pupil funding is 46th in the nation. What are the policymakers doing to address this educational crisis? Aside from patching together a state budget that is but a house of cards, aren't they supposed to pay attention to the system as a whole?

Doesn't a world-class education system necessitate an adequate revenue base?

Are we content to live in this state of mediocrity we call California?

I didn't become an educator to dismantle programs and services that support our students' learning. Never mind. Maybe it's better to enroll our kids in a private school. We shouldn't think about the water we are stewing in. It's so warm and soothing ...

Fred Brill is the superintendent of the Lafayette School District and an instructor in UC Berkeley's Principal Leadership Institute. This article has been corrected since it appeared in print editions

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