Editorial: Even Smart People Sometimes Miss the Point

We respect Trustee Ken Hurst. He’s a smart man. He has a Ph.D. in Geology and works with rocket scientists at NASA. He and his father founded the FMHS Robotics Team as volunteers. Then they worked to raise funds to build a program that has taught six generations of students to be inventive in solving problems.

So we respect Mr. Hurst’s discomfort about our report that El Tejon Unified School District (ETUSD) has been running ads to hire two new administrators for Frazier Mountain High School. He calls mention of that fact “inflammatory,” and observes that the principal and vice principal positions—though now are both empty—are normal line items in the budget and are fulltime jobs.

What he does not mention is that these are not normal times. This is a time of crisis.

Nowhere in these 788 words does Mr. Hurst mention the most critical threat to ETUSD’s future, or pose suggestions for how to solve it.

For months the parents of this community have been pointing to the decline in enrollment in this district’s schools. That is three times more threatening to the revenues of ETUSD than the loss caused by partisan stubbornness in Sacramento.

While $349,000 is unpaid by the state, over $1 million may be lost to the 2011-12 budget due to loss of students.

The trustees, fiscal director and superintendent appear unwilling to admit to the real crisis while there is still time to do something about it. Why is that? If this were the robotics team, Mr. Hurst would point to a critical flaw in analysis.

Parents have been trying to get the trustees to wake up. The community message is clear: cutting educational services and student sports in order to maintain the same number of administrators is not a solution to the real problem.

No trustee spoke up on Wednesday, June 8 to explain why the priorities in their budget are a valid response to the immediate crisis: loss of students and a hemorrhage of confidence by smart kids and involved parents.

This can be turned around. But the trustees appear to be asleep at the switch. They need to be actively working with the community to recruit students back and to rebuild confidence.

Here’s another open secret those in business know too well: in times of crisis, people find they can do extraordinary things.

As our publisher said this week: “Two years ago I had a fulltime job. Today I have two fulltime jobs. Why? Because that is what we have to do to get through this recession.” The editor and the office manager in our company will say the same thing. We’re each doing the jobs of two people today.

We salute Mr. Hurst’s effort to engage in dialogue. More is needed. This is a community rich with creativity. We’re problem solvers. There are people in the arts ready to step up as a consortium of mentors to enrich the school programs as the Hursts have done in science.

But people are shocked at the disconnect shown by the trustees. Are they traumatized by all the challenges since 2006 (caused by lack of board oversight of an earlier superintendent who went rogue)? Are they numbed by the death of Shelly Mason?

In a Hollywood movie, this is the moment when someone would step up to say, “Snap out of it—or get out of the way!”

Mr. Hurst can help. But we need action. Quickly.

This is part of the June 17, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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