Gustine Unified: What Empty Buildings Teach


Alright, really quick. I'm hoping to get something up about script frenzy that's been mulling around in my head but it keeps getting bullied and knocked over by all the photography, family, and economy concerns. As such, I decided that I needed to start taking these things on rather than allow them to have their way with me. Yes, I even mean the economy.

Today, I sat down and started a letter to the Editor that I'm hoping to send off to several nearby papers. It's an important issue that is impacting my family but even some of you that follow the blog. While the letter is targeted at the Gustine Unified School District, the same symptoms are being reported across the country. On NPR this afternoon they even profiled the Kansas City school district that is closing half of their public schools. This school district has received over $2 billion and has state of the art everything, complete with olympic sized pool. Now they're going to try and sell the school sites in hopes to avoid bankruptcy.

What follows is the first draft of what I will be sending off to the papers. I'm possibly considering printing out a huge stack of them and taking my son on one of our walks through the town so we can leave them in all the mailboxes. This is that important. Feel free to post this elsewhere and pass it along if you think it might help your own ailing school district. If by chance you happen to fall within the reaches of Gustine Unified, please write your own letters to the editor and flood the papers with cries of dissent. And remember, board meetings are the second Wednesday of each month. I think it's time they start hearing from the people their decisions impact.

What Empty Buildings Teach

I have a unique perspective with regards to the education funding crisis in California. No, I’m not a politician, and while I am college-educated I am not a current student or teacher. However, I do come from family of teachers. That in itself is not all that unique even though it may soon be the way layoffs are going. What is unique is that up until about a year ago I worked as a journeyman carpenter for a company that only does government work. My job was to travel up and down the State installing learning aids - whiteboards, projector screens, tack board. Day in, day out, I visited school after school, rarely spending two consecutive days at the same job site.

I saw mighty old buildings fighting the good fight against the rigors of time, the kind we used to see in after school specials with grand halls lined with lockers. I saw schools like those I attended in the Valley, all spread out with portables scattered here and there. Then there were the great wonders of new construction springing up all over the state, brand new campuses that rivaled even the best of colleges in both size and scope.

These new buildings were filled with skylights, lofted ceilings, SMART boards that transfer the teacher’s writing from the board to the computer, marker boards that covered complete walls from the floor to a foot above my head, and amenities that most of us can only dream of having in our own homes. I’ve installed screens that should have been in movie theatres, put in mounts for projectors that by themselves cost more than the car I drive, and during all of this I was paid the same if not better wages than the college-educated teachers that would end up inheriting those classrooms. Or will they?

It seems we have the money to put up $5,000 SMART boards across the State but no money to show the teachers how to use them. We build multi-million dollar schools but can’t afford to keep on teachers to work in them. In Gustine Unified alone, next year, the class sizes are going to balloon to nearly 40 students per class. A quarter of the high school staff has been given pink slips this year, on top of the cuts made the year before.

And where do we place the blame? On the teachers who went to college for six plus years just so that they could be paid the same as an entry level carpenter putting up white boards? Perhaps it’s their fault for not figuring out how to get a $10,000 projector to teach the extra ten to twenty kids in their class for them.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a misallocation of funds by unelected officials who try to strong arm teachers into furlough days without providing budgetary information to them… people who push to build new schools but can’t find the money to fill them with teachers.

With these unelected officials running amuck, how do we stop them? Do we go to the Federal Government and look for change there? Maybe we try the State with its inability to pass a budget? Or perhaps we look to the people who appoint district superintendants, those five elected officials on the school board.

We have a choice: we can either choose to side with those men and women struggling to teach our children without the support of the district, or we can side with those who take our money to put up buildings in honor of their own egos, so that they can say, “Look at what I built when I was there.” In truth, those empty school buildings can teach us something but the question we have to ask ourselves is: is this a lesson we can afford to learn?