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Thursday, March 19, 2009 | The SD Unified School District Board of Education last week voted to eliminate transportation for all magnet programs in the district, yet another short—sighted effort by the board to deal with the budget crisis handed down by the state. This move is particularly harmful for dedicated magnet schools, meaning schools where 100 percent of the students attend for the special program and no one attends simply because they live in the local neighborhood. The six dedicated magnet schools in SDUSD are Language Academy (K—8), Longfellow (K—8), Crown Point Elementary, Millennium Tech Middle, Creative and Performing Media Arts (middle school), and School of Creative and Performing Arts (high school). Why should San Diego taxpayers support transportation for dedicated magnets? The answer lies in the budget, the principles, and the future.
The budget of bad math and poor research: Supposedly, the elimination of buses for magnet programs would save $10.5 million. According to the district transportation office, 262 buses serve ALL magnet programs. Does this really add up to $10.5 million? We don’t know, because the Board of Education has not offered to show us the math. Dedicated magnet schools are served by only 96 buses, or about 37 percent of the total, or about $3.8 million, if one uses the district’s own numbers.
Is the Board of Education really unable to find $3.8 million elsewhere to cut? What was this decision based on? Surely not the survey that the school district put online a few weeks ago?
That “study” was flawed because (1) only people with computer access could participate, meaning that results are not representative of lower-income families or those who are computer—challenged, (2) there was no way to ensure that participation came from only those who were supposed to participate (parents and students), and (3) there was no mechanism to prevent one person from participating multiple times. Budget decisions should not be based on biased information collected from questionable participants in an online-only survey; they should be based on solid research and good principles.
The principles of equal access and social justice: Historically, magnet programs were designed to facilitate racial integration in public schools. At Language Academy, 57 percent of our student population is bused. A very large proportion of those who take the bus to our school come from parts of town that are either low-income and/or racially diverse. Because our school is located south of I—8, the voluntary enrollment exchange program, or VEEP, does not apply to us. Transportation is the ONLY way for more than half our student population to come to Language Academy.
Elimination of transportation for our and other dedicated magnet schools means that people must choose to either drive their kids to school or send them to neighborhood schools. Clearly, not everyone can afford the time or expense of driving; thus, elimination of transportation for dedicated magnets becomes an issue of equal access to public education. Furthermore, many people choose magnet programs in the first place due to the poor educational quality of their neighborhood schools; thus, elimination of transportation for magnet programs means robbing families of the right to school choice and condemning the most vulnerable segments of our population to inadequate education and correspondingly bleak futures.
Eliminating transportation to dedicated magnets is an issue of unequal access to public education and an issue of social injustice. Providing transportation to dedicated magnets like Language Academy supports racial and economic integration. Why is this important?
The future of San Diego: Census Bureau projections indicate that, in the years to come, our country will continue to see an increase in the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in our population. In the future, even more so than today, the United States will need business and civic leaders who speak many languages and understand many cultures. Despite this reality, demographic studies indicate that people usually choose to live with people who look like themselves. This means that neighborhood-based schools usually serve children who are economically and racially homogenous. The best way for our children to meet people different from themselves, to learn to negotiate diversity in all its forms, to develop at an early age a tolerance for human differences, is to send them to schools — like dedicated magnets — that support the principles of equal access, social justice, and diversity. Teaching our children about multiculturalism today will benefit our city and our country tomorrow.
On behalf of the parents and students at Language Academy and other dedicated magnet schools, I strongly urge the Board of Education to restore the proposed cut of $3.8 million in transportation funding to provide busing for dedicated magnet schools. This issue goes beyond the budget — it’s about equal access, social justice, and the future of San Diego.
Bey—Ling Sha is the PTA president at the Language Academy.