Mailbag: Don't open schools 'before summer ends'

In important ways our public schools are a success story. Our goal is to sustain and enhance success. Accordingly, our school board should continue to encourage innovation, prudently husband resources, and try to turn weaknesses into strengths. You can count on us to support our schools, as we always do in so many ways.

But we can't let you turn strengths into weaknesses. In some small farm towns, you don't open schools at harvest. In some seafaring villages, you don't open schools when fish are running. In Laguna Beach, you do not open schools before summer ends.

For 80 years the Pageant of Masters has been a summer-long family affair for volunteer parents and kids. Summer does not end in August. Same for kids who work at the Sawdust Art Festival, for the city, or family owned businesses.

Apparently letting a small cadre of educational bureaucrats trash 60 years of the "Artists" tradition at Laguna Beach High School was not enough. Now someone up on Blumont Street wants summer to end early? Whoever it is didn't go to school here, never sat on the sand with kids after a swim on the last days of summer before Labor Day.

The school board does much that is good, but then perversely persists in the most ill-advised notions and stubbornly refuses to correct mistakes. Yeah, we know pesky "militant parents" are annoying. Only thing worse is "officious public school bureaucrats" and "strident school board members."

By petulantly doing the wrong thing to prove the board can't be pushed around, school officials end up pushing citizens and parents around, even students. The way Supt. Sherine Smith spoke down to our young people and questioned their social ethics, after they had come so well and thoughtfully prepared at the City Hall hearings on the social host ordinance, was quite disturbing.

Apparently that negative civics lesson was not enough; now the board tells us failure to attend meetings forfeits the right to be heard. The subliminal message is that they have no accountability to anyone who does not attend their meetings.

Is this like adolescent negative attention-getting behavior? Feel neglected by low attendance at meetings? Need more recognition? More vanity press and self-initiated awards touted in local papers?

We elect you folks so we don't have to attend meetings unless we want to tell you how pleased we are about positive achievements, or when you screw up. We all screw up, but not all of us are so intolerant of debate and opposition.

The community funds the schools and elects a school board to make sure the professional educators serve the community and reflect its values and character. An officious edict "optimizing learning potential" by starting school before summer ends is not how to balance public school employee prerogatives and community values.

Even if it's a great idea, they did it like thieves in the night. As so often seems to be the case, flawed process undermines policy. The school board's job is to ensure perceived imperatives of educational technocracy and institutionalized public employee self-interest are not substituted indiscriminately for broader interests and sensibilities of the community.

We count on the board to discern the difference between good ideas that professional educators have to improve our schools and bad ideas. You asked for the job, we gave it to you, now do it.

Let us know how we can help. We always have and we always will.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

Editor's note: The author is a district representative for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.


Kudos to Pearson for sticking with entrance vision

I was so pleased to read Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Person's letter to the editor and her commitment to the original Village Entrance Task Force vision statement written more than 18 years ago. Pearson quotes the entire vision statement and commits to bring to fruition their vision as a way to honor all those who worked on the project over the years.

The vision, briefly stated, is to have a pedestrian walkway that meanders through an undulating park-like landscape linking downtown to the festivals "and replaces surface parking with a consolidated parking structure that has been visually integrated into an area next to City Hall" and is "designed so that it does not have an obtrusive feel...."

My understanding is that one reason the Village Entrance project has been stalled is because in 2006 there was a proposal and an Environmental Impact Report on a plan for this area that included not a "visually integrated" parking structure as envisioned by the Village Entrance Task Force, but a five-level structure of up to 670 parking spaces.

However a study showed that a structure of that magnitude was not financially viable because the peak demand for more parking is only for two months — generated by the arts festivals — and during the remainder of the year, there is no such demand. There were certain influential factions then, and many still exist today, that maintain that a large, obtrusive parking structure is needed and, therefore, the original vision of the Task Force continues to be unfulfilled.

Kudos to Pearson for stating that she is committed to working toward the completion of the Village Entrance project as originally envisioned by the Task Force.

Johanna Felder

Laguna Beach

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