Measure Y, the $4 billion Los Angeles Unified School District bond issue about which I wrote two weeks ago, passed overwhelmingly with 66 percent of the vote.
The proceeds will be used to build 25 new elementary schools as well as to upgrade older middle and high schools.
Even though Los Angeles voters have passed nearly $10 billion in bonds since 1997 that enabled the district to construct more than 40 new schools, more are needed.
By 2012, a total of 160 additional schools will be required.
In a quasi-apologetic statement to the community, Glenn Gritzner, special assistant to LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer said, “The previous bonds have gotten us a step closer to our goals. They are all pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This is the final piece.”
One thing I know for sure: Gritzner is wrong.
Measure Y is not the “final piece” or the next to the “final piece” or even the next to the next “final piece.”
LAUSD, like every other school district in California, will continue to go back to the taxpayer well indefinitely and without any guarantee that the end product — education — will ever improve.
While I have no financial stake in the outcome of Los Angeles tax issues, I do have strong emotional ties to my native California in general and to Lodi specifically.
I would like to think that we’re on the right track.
Our own Lodi Unified School District, according to Superintendent Bill Huyett in his 2005 State of the District address, announced the need for 10 new elementary, one middle and one high school. This comes directly on the heels of Measure K that generated $109 million for new school construction.
To be sure, demographics warrant the additions. In north Stockton alone, 30,000 new homes will bring 15,000 new students into the district in the next few years.
And according to the Great Valley Center, San Joaquin County’s population, at 570,000 in 2000, will reach 1.7 million in 2050.
You know what that means — schools, schools and more schools.
California K-12 education is at a critical juncture. Building more schools is an inevitability given the population growth. But there is a less discussed variable that would alleviate much of the pressure to expand, increase the dismal California graduation rate and insure that those who do graduate are better qualified.
Everyone who has a stake in California’s children — school administrators, parents, teachers, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and President George W. Bush — should work to end illegal immigration that has had a remarkably detrimental impact our schools.
Less illegal immigration would allow the state’s population to gradually level off instead of continuing to soar into the stratosphere. That, in turn, would give the beleaguered taxpayer a break from his steady diet of school bond issues. And last but not least in the classroom, it would free teachers to focus on the children who are already here and struggling.
Why isn’t that a plausible plan?
What has been true for decades is that poverty and low educational achievement are closely linked. Educators often cite as a major goal reducing the achievement gap between Hispanic and white and Asian students.
Worthy as that is, it is simply not possible as long as significant numbers of low performing students are added to the K-12 enrollment every year.
The stakes are high. According to the San Jose-based National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the per capita income in California is poised to sink by 11 percent over the first two decades of the 21st Century as the workforce shifts from mostly white (71 percent in 1980) to mostly Hispanic (61 percent by 2020).
Incomes will drop because fewer will have the academic qualifications to get and hold better jobs.
Since, according to Census 2000, 52 percent of Hispanics in the 25-to-64 age group do not have high-school diplomas, they are locked into low paying jobs.
And their children will suffer, too. In 2004, the Rand Corporation released its study titled, “A Matter of Class.” According to Rand, the most important variables in a child’s education are socioeconomic: parental education levels and occupational status, family income and neighborhood poverty.
If you don’t think the current system is crazy, consider these facts.
The Harvard Civil Rights Project reported that about 50 percent of Hispanics who enroll in high school drop out before graduation. Each year, drop outs cost California about $14 billion. And, again every year, 1,224 non-graduating high school students land in the California penal system.
What I am telling you, in a nutshell, is that we’re spinning our wheels. For things to get better, school enrollment must level off.
And then California, instead of being the educational providers to the world, could focus on the students already here to prepare them for the challenges of the 21st Century.
Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988.