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Details were wrong, but point stands

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To follow up on my letter to the editor regarding tax dollars being wasted in our public schools (“Track tax dollars in public education,” Nov. 9), I wanted to clear up a few misconceptions that some of the readers had.

First, I apologize for my wrong assumption regarding the NEA’s funding sources. It was not my intent to misinform. However, my misunderstanding of the NEA’s funding only strengthened the argument regarding inefficiencies with the schools, not weakened it. That leaves even more tax dollars going to unseen administrative and “other” costs.

Second, the $100,000 figure I stated was not meant to suggest that our public school teachers all receive that amount per year. It was purposely put on the high side so as to keep my argument from sounding inflated. In other words, if most public school teachers make on average $60,000 per year, than that would only strengthen my assertion that the tax money is not going to our local schools as it should. It was done as a simple visual exercise to help people see that if $10,000 per student per year is going in to a school and there are at a minimum about 20 students per class (much higher in middle schools and high schools), from a private citizen’s point of view (and one more familiar with private schools), that’s a lot of money going to places that we would like to know more about. Further, it suggests that if our public schools were run similarly to local private schools, then the costs per student would go down significantly.

Third, there are credible sources who say it costs even more than $10,000/year per public school student. According to articles I have read, the costs may be closer to $20,000 if one accounts for non-local costs. One article revealed that in Washington, D.C., the costs were as high as $24,000/year per student when all of the tax money received divided by the number of students enrolled was calculated (Washington Post, 2008). I have no idea if our California school districts are run similarly to other school districts in the country, but if nothing else, it certainly proves that we as taxpayers should be paying close attention to just exactly how the money is being spent.

There are many who think that if we’re not public school administrators or educators, we should leave it to the “experts.” Admittedly, most of us are not experts in this area, but we do have a right to know how and where our money is going and to ask questions about why private institutions can run so much more efficiently than our public institutions — and, once determining why that is so, find out if there is anything that can be done to improve our schools and decrease taxpayer waste. I believe that those immersed in the system will have a harder time seeing how to reform it than those from the outside. The “this is just how it’s always been and always will be” way of looking of things is not going to fix the problem.

In the end, as California’s budget woes continue to mount, there may come a time when budget and educational reform will come in ways that will hurt more than this letter might offend many readers. What happened in Greece may become a reality in California.

(Jackel lives in Napa.)

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