My longtime readers have no doubt read this account a few times, but it bears repeating as there is an update to the end of the story. It was six years ago back in August when my nephew moved in with us, just a few days away from turning seven and entering first grade.
When we took him in, we knew that he was severely underweight and he suffered from pretty serious emotional outbursts at home. What wasn’t apparent was how far behind he was in school. In many cases he was scoring in the 20th to 30th percentile.
As a new parent – we had a nine-month-old baby that we would be adopting a year later – it was overwhelming, but the first time I walked into the district IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting it no longer felt so overwhelming. I found myself surrounded by a group of ten people, ranging from special education teachers to counselors to psychologists and the works.
They had a plan, but most importantly their presence told me I was not alone. It has been a long and uneven path over the last six years. But my nephew is now starting seventh grade.
This week I sat in on his first IEP at Harper Junior High. I swear they were talking about a completely different kid from the one we had known six years ago. Gone are most of his behavioral issues. Gone is his sense of social isolation. And almost gone is his academic gap from his peers. He’s still a little behind in math.
He has learning difficulties, he will probably never process information the same way as other people, but he has a real chance. As they told me, for the first time, we will be able to see what he can achieve academically because the behavior barriers are now virtually gone.
I hear a lot of bashing about schools, and I have my own concerns about this district in a lot of ways. But at the end of the day, the progress I have seen in that kid gives me hope.
While of none of this directly relates to a parcel tax, here is what we can infer from our experience. Resources do matter. A district that did not have the resources available would not have been able to provide the level of service my nephew needed to overcome his early childhood difficulties. There was a lot of one-on-one attention, nurturing and help from a large number of people at three schools over six years in time.
Second, how many other kids have not gotten the kind of attention they needed?
I know it is not just the schools – we have done our part providing him with a stable and loving home, a good and safe community, resources and support. But the heavy lifting was not done by us, it was mostly done by the schools.
As recently as third grade, he was being pulled out of class more than half the time, not by design. Most of it was due to his shutting down when he encountered struggles and hardship. This week I was told he had only three to six shutdowns this year, and all of them lasted less than five minutes and he was redirected and back on task. Things that would have knocked him out for the day just four years ago, he’s shrugging off in less than five minutes.
We have discussed at length here that the Davis school district is an averagely-funded district when we have the parcel tax. We are below average if that parcel tax ever goes away.
There are numbers being thrown out there that frankly don’t make a lot of sense. Jose Granda, the one opponent of the parcel tax running for school board, has discussed the $5000 commitment that each person who owns a parcel will have to pay over the next eight years.
There are two factors in that increase. First, the yearly rate has increased by $100 partly because of a court decision that changed the way the district receives parcel taxes from multi-unit residences. Second, instead of coming back to the voters for renewal every four years, they have made this an eight-year commitment.
I actually have mixed feelings about the latter issue. After all, coming back to the voters every four years is a reminder of our commitment to education. On the other hand, it is a sign that our financial gap is not dissipating, even in good years. The base state obligation is insufficient to provide the level of service that we are accustomed to in this district.
I am in agreement that, in an ideal world, the state would supply the local districts with sufficient resources to operate without local parcel taxes. I am also in agreement that there are better and fairer ways to tax the community, but those are prohibited under Proposition 13.
My problem is that we are not asking for enough. I believe that this district can be great and, while I am pleased with the education that my nephew has received and our other two children as well, I know there is so much more we could do.
Five thousand dollars over eight years pales in comparison to the cost of poor education. It costs $50,000 or so a year to incarcerate someone for a year, but less than $10,000 to educate them and give them a chance to succeed. It’s a small trade off.
—David M. Greenwald reporting