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Orange County Voices : COMMENTARY ON EDUCATION : County’s Schools Can’t Afford to ‘Take a Hit’ on Bankruptcy : The K-12 system--the state’s finest--needs to have top priority for returned funds. Our future depends on it.

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Financial disaster has befallen Orange County, once the pride of California, at least in the eyes of our 2.5 million county residents. Our 27 K-12 school districts, ranked No. 1 in the statewide Field poll, are at risk of becoming the first to close their doors, destroying what local pride and dedication have taken decades to build.

The media feeding frenzy since the Dec. 6 Board of Supervisors’ bankruptcy pronouncement has often produced more heat than light, more rhetoric than logic, more fault-seeking than solution-gathering.

Until the best financial gurus come forward with one or more reasonable, logical and workable plans, county government and our schools K-12 are virtually paralyzed--and Orange County is much too fine a county to accept a comatose condition.

Our economy is sound; our unemployment rate is low; our future is bright . . . but at the moment our schools have one goal: to make every one of the 187 creditors whole once more!

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Our public schools must have a priority one status on available funds, just to keep the doors open. All of our school money for month-to-month operations, as well as Mello-Roos payments and health insurance, is in the county coffers. We were given no other option.

Now we must have all of it returned.

Districts need every dime to balance budgets with legally required reserves. Budgets are already close to the margin as a result of severe cost-cutting. Increasing class sizes again, well beyond the reasonable or prudent, is the last resort.

In a recent meeting with two members of the Board of Supervisors, we were advised that the schools “would take a hit” on the principal. Our response: No! We cannot take that loss.

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Class size, the number of children per teacher in California, is already the highest in the nation, and it could increase dramatically. Everything except the basic instructional program would disappear for the foreseeable future.

Orange County schools would become the educational “dust bowl.” Businesses which flourish when the schools are good soon leave, or fail to locate in Orange County.

Without question, our county’s quality of life is a direct result of the quality of education we provide--or do not support. As an elementary school principal, the calls I received most often were from prospective parents seeking information about the quality of our schools.

Real estate brokers report the most requested data by potential home buyers are about schools and the quality of education.

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As the media have reported, our school districts and their boards of education have responded to the financial crisis as they deem appropriate and that is as it should be. Locally elected trustees know their district needs best.

Common to every district and to the Orange County Department of Education, however, has been a “belt-tightening,” filling only the most crucial personnel vacancies, delaying major purchases whenever possible and requesting that staff members scrutinize every purchase order to ascertain absolute need.

Classroom and teacher needs come first; all else has lower priority. To even consider depriving our students of the best education possible is absurd!

We have the full cooperation of newly elected (state) Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and her staff, and Maureen DiMarco, (education director) from the governor’s office, and we will work cooperatively with the Board of Supervisors to solve the problem. It is crucial, however, that our 2.5 million Orange County residents know that the schools were not a part of creating the problem, but we must insist on being a part of the solution.

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I was elected by the people, taking an oath to do everything within my power to provide the best in public education in Orange County. No plan to restore the county’s financial viability will be acceptable if it destroys the schools. Anything less than a 100% return on our money, over the short or long range, is unacceptable.


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