Letters to the Editor
Our public schools are facing a budget crisis. Unfunded mandates are issued by the state, and districts are left holding the bag, doing everything they can to save pennies here and there. AUSD has a Chief Business Officer whose job is to manage the financials.
But make no mistake — public education is not a business. Businesses are profit-driven enterprises beholden to shareholders and investors. On the other hand, public education is a service offered by the government, and paid for by the people.
Public education is a cornerstone of our democracy. A population that is better educated has less unemployment, reduced dependence on public assistance programs, and greater tax revenue. Education also plays a key role in the reduction of crime, improved public health, and greater political and civic engagement. These things are invaluable.
The title of “Chief Business Officer” has no place in public education. Balancing a public school’s budget is not an exercise in making a business profitable. Anyone who is charged with making financial decisions needs to be able to consider the intangible and unquantifiable benefits that are included in the cost of services, vendors, programs, and other expenses.
AUSD has made it a habit to execute short-sighted budget decisions, without giving the community’s opinion proper consideration. Long term strategies are not clear — we just see schools closed, programs eliminated, and long-standing local vendors set aside for short term cost savings. This is no way to operate. The stewards of our children’s education can do better if they set aside the idea that running a district is analogous to running a business. Our kids, and our community, deserve better.
So often we hear of the dysfunction of government or companies taking advantage of customers that I thought I’d like to share two experiences of the opposite sort.
A few weeks ago, we found our toilets backed up. A plumber determined that the problem was in the pipes from our house to the main sewer in the street. I called Public Works and they immediately sent out a crew to assess the situation. They found that when a new sewer was put in the street the contractor failed to connect our line.
Now here’s the good part. Public Works, with foreman Kalani Otenbriet and supervisor Manny Rios, immediately began remediation. Our problem was temporarily fixed the same day and permanently fixed within a week. Public Works coordinated with the original contractor. Manny and his crew and contractors stayed in constant communication with us and updated us every step of the way. It was the most pleasant interaction with a city official or department I’ve ever experienced.
The next encouraging incident we had was with our car. Thieves attempted to steal our catalytic converter. I interrupted them before they could disconnect it, but they’d sawed a hole in it, and it needed to be welded closed.
I took it to Alameda Auto Body who I’d had business with before. Their welder was away for a week, so they called another auto body shop nearby and arranged for them to do it on a sub-contract basis. I didn’t even need to drive my car to the other shop.
A couple of weeks later our car hood wouldn’t open. The cable had disconnected. So, I took it to Alameda Auto Body and they interrupted their work and looked at it right then. When the tech couldn’t figure out how to access it, he called over the owner who spent nearly a half hour fixing it right in front of us. There were no complaints, no delays, nothing but friendly service and helpfulness. After fixing it, they sent us on our way refusing to take payment. I hope no one gets the idea that they work for free, but this was such a generous and kind gesture that I thought others should know they are good folks and an asset to our community.
There are good people doing good and kind work right here in Alameda, and I’m sure there are many others who’ve had similar experiences. Maybe the Sun should start a column.
I am an auto driver, a pedestrian, a dog walker (my own) and a cyclist. I have crisscrossed our city innumerable times. I am particularly familiar with the streets of Harbor Bay where I reside. My dog Charly and I walk a total of four miles per day, once during the commute and once around the lunch hour. I’ve witnessed motorists doing up to about 60 miles per hour on Harbor Bay Parkway and passing stop signs at speeds up to possibly 30. Virtually no one makes a complete stop. The irresponsible drivers jet into the corporate businesses or race for the ferry parking lot with little to no regard for the safety of pedestrians or other vehicles. The behavior is similar in the vicinity of our schools. We will have other “accidents” and fatalities, it is not a question of if but when. This is a serious public safety issue.
I invite members of the Alameda Police (including the Chief), Public Works, and Transportation and Planning departments to join me one morning to observe firsthand what transpires on Harbor Bay roadways. No marked cars, no cameras, just us, coffee and donuts (my treat). Until we can form committees, study traffic patterns and debate proposals for Council adoption we need periodic police monitoring and community education (including the corporate sector and ferry patrons). Immediately following the latest fatality, I witnessed four police officers issuing tickets on my way out of Harbor Bay. It should not take the death of a citizen to mobilize the police.