A $400,000 bake sale seemed ambitious

OUSD dads Mike Napolitano, Mike Mages, and Ron Kriss recently rode their bikes to Sacramento to urge lawmakers to restore public school funding. They wrote a piece about their experience. -Katy

photo courtesy of Julie Harris

Last week the three of us and a friend rode our bikes 100 miles to the state capitol to hand-deliver a petition to elected officials demanding that the state restore funding to public education. In the process we hoped to raise public awareness about the crisis facing schools.

The decision to ride to the capitol came about after learning that our school, Claremont Middle School, which serves 400 students from all over Oakland, will see a $400,000 cut in its funding for next year. If funds are not restored, the school will lose many enrichment programs that staff and the community have worked hard to establish in recent years, and which were just starting to show results.

Having a school library staffed with librarians has our kids reading more. Having electives like computer animation, has engaged kids who were struggling before, and helped them develop skills that eventually could lead to good jobs. This year we have seen double digit increases in the percentage of students advanced or proficient in English. Without the library, computer animation, and other enrichment programs, parents and teachers believe these recent academic gains may be lost.

Other programs making a difference at the school also are on the chopping block, including the school’s communications coordinator and its conflict resolution programs. The communications coordinator produces a weekly email report received by over 400 community members, and a monthly newsletter that reaches all families at the school. The report and newsletter highlight volunteer opportunities, events, and programs. Since starting the report and newsletter, parent and community involvement has increased substantially. The Peacemaker Program, started in February, has greatly improved school climate, allowing teachers to focus on academics. We know these programs are working, but have been told by the district there is no funding for next year.

Many voters seem to believe that California schools need to do a better job with the funds they have. Although there definitely is room for improvement, it’s also true that California ranks near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending (California Budget Project, 2009). As a result of the February 2009 state budget agreement, schools will see an additional 20 percent reduction in state funding. We are truly at the bottom of the barrel now, and this is just plain wrong.

If Claremont and other schools like it can be successful, Oakland and the state will have a bright future. All we are asking for is a fighting chance. Elected officials including Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock, and Sandre Swanson met our group on Monday, and accepted a petition and letters from Claremont students urging restoration of funding. As a follow-up, we have invited Sandre Swanson and Loni Hancock to Claremont to view first hand what is working, and where the school needs their help.

For more information about the event please go to: http://www.claremontms.org/Claremontms/100mileride.html.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.