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Lee Lipsey, San Diego

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | Thanks for your ongoing coverage of San Diego’s public schools. On June 2, the school board had a big vote with parents frantically organizing for months to save small schools, save athletic programs, save visual and permorning arts, save off campus learning at Old Town, Balboa Park and Palomar.

I have seen school boards use these scare tactics over and over, whenever they are faced with budget challenges. Same thing in northern Virginia (Washington D.C. area) where we raised our children and were active school volunteers. The “proposed cuts” are always targeted at the most popular programs, guaranteeing a public outcry.

Instead of working with professional staff to manage budgets responsibly all year long, the school board raises an alarm in the Spring and activates the most predictably activist parent volunteers, who then invest hundreds of personal hours and thousands of BTU’s of emotional energy in rallying their troops to defend against the proposed cuts. Predictably, the school board, when faced with predictable parent rebellion, finds other ways to cut expenses. And the cuts that they actually make are seen as acceptable because they have “saved” the popular programs that had broad parent support.

This drama plays out again and again. It makes me weary to think of all the hours that parent volunteers here and elsewhere have devoted to playing their scripted parts year after year. Not to mention the trauma to the many dedicated administrators, teachers and coaches whose careers are pawns in the play.

Now might be a good time for the school board and staff to build a more sound strategic planning process for a future in which additional budget cuts will likely be needed. (Or maybe they could just put it all up for public referendum and entirely avoid making tough decisions…following the lead of our state legislature?)

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