City Life: Education as an investment

Loretta Zimmerman, Judy Franco's opponent for an open school board seat, has created lawn signs declaring that 30 years of Franco on the school board is enough. But what if Zimmerman is wrong? What if 30 years of Franco on the school board isn't enough? After all, Ted Kennedy was a U.S. senator for 47 years and was still productive and earning the respect of both major parties until his death last year.

And if you are a resident on Costa Mesa's Eastside or of Newport Beach, why would you vote for someone new when you are satisfied with your schools?

For some, "satisfied" is unacceptable; they understand that running in place is running to lose. Those who embrace change and are never satisfied with the status quo have been the innovators and leaders throughout history.

Locally, a vision is shared by the residents of the Westside of Costa Mesa, where some elementary schools have been failing for years, and the parents on the Eastside and in Newport Beach, where schools are doing well: They all want their children to benefit from the best new concepts in education so they can compete in a world economy that is demanding more from our kids every day.

A review of the School Accountability Report Card (SARC) for just three of Costa Mesa's Westside elementary schools reveals a disturbing lack of progress. At Pomona, Whittier and Wilson elementary schools, the latest reported Academic Performance Index rankings (2008) all have a statewide ranking of 2 on a scale from 1 to 10. Whittier has gone backward, having ranked as high as 4 in 2006. In 2006, Pomona and Wilson ranked 1 and 2, respectively.

The value of the API ranking is best described on the SARCs: "A statewide rank of 1 means that the school has an API score in the lowest ten percent of all schools in the state, while a statewide rank of 10 means that the school has an API score in the highest ten percent of all schools in the state."

The low numbers at these Westside elementary schools cannot be dismissed with the stereotype that the significant Latino population there does not place as much emphasis on education as residents elsewhere. We've been hearing that for so many years and the school board has not figured out a way to better educate the Westside students.

As a board member for 30 years, Franco cannot escape responsibility for the thousands of students who have been ignored and neglected, but she has never expressed one syllable of ownership for the poor performance of those elementary schools.

While it is true that Franco is but one vote out of seven, I would make the same arguments for any school board member who has been there more than one term and is up for reelection. When Franco started on the school board, Jimmy Carter was finishing up his term as president.

Pointing out Franco's apparent disconnection or uninterest with failing schools is one issue. Talking up Zimmerman's outstanding qualifications to serve as a board member is another. Zimmerman has been heavily involved in the community for more than 20 years and has sent her five kids through the Newport-Mesa school system. That combined experience gives her a unique and beneficial approach to educating our children.

Zimmerman looks at each child as an investment. At a cost of $10,287 per pupil per year, the total tab per student from kindergarten through the 12th grade runs well over $100,000. Zimmerman believes we can and should be doing more to protect that investment.

Among other projects, she will work to refine a "business track" in our schools that will help teach older students how to own their own business and become more self-reliant instead of cycling them through the ancient method of teaching them how to go to work for someone else.

Zimmerman possesses the entrepreneurial spirit that your school board has been lacking for too many years. That spirit lives by the saying, "If you think it can't be done, get out of the way of those who think it can."

Zimmerman is right: Thirty years is enough. I just wish Franco had said it first.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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