Guest Column: More money isn't the answer for LCUSD schools

In June 2009, the La Cañada Unified School District faced the beginning of steep budget cuts from Sacramento. Among other actions, LCUSD responded by asking you for an additional $150 tax on your property. Enjoying broad support from committed members of the community, and commanding the necessary two-thirds vote required to pass such a ballot initiative, Measure LC became law.

I served on the steering committee. This was a mistake. My "Yes" vote — along with the votes of the 4,848 people I shared that vote with — was equally misguided. A new task force will ask for $2,500 from each stakeholder in the District and I hope the lesson of Measure LC is not lost on the community. I urge you to demand more from one of the best public-school districts this state has to offer.

Even the mildest amount of investigating on the topic of student achievement and education quality will tell us what we should already know: More money isn't the answer if that money isn't being spent well in the first place. LCUSD spends its money wisely — for the most part. Despite its frugality, the schools will only ever need more and more cash to maintain the same results.

This remains true as long as the District and the community refuse to confront the death grip the La Cañada Teachers Association (LCTA) has on the largest component of the budget, and of student achievement: human capital.

All across the country, schools with weak, reasonable, or nonexistent teachers' unions outperform LCUSD in communities that lack the privileges of La Cañada. And these are public schools. Never mind the studies that show public per-pupil spending in some places eclipses the tuition of some of the most elite private schools in the country.

Whether as a matter of contractual restriction or lack of will, the cost of not adequately evaluating teacher effectiveness, and the cost of not adjusting staffing decisions (i.e., hiring, firing, pay level) based upon this information, represents both an educational and fiscal deficit.

Our district is too small, and our community too invested in educational success, to align with the status quo and to be slave to a system that can't discriminate between the value and effectiveness of particular teachers.

When you were asked to vote for Measure LC, when you are asked to make the $2,500 donation, and when you are inevitably asked for the next contribution, you are, and will always be, met with the same sell: We need it to remain excellent. But how excellent is the teacher in front of your child? Any better than the one next door? Any better than the one down the street?

Twenty-five hundred dollars isn't a donation, it's tuition. And those tuition dollars blindly line the pockets of the worst teachers your child ever has at the same rate it affords the best. I shouldn't have been complicit in this practice two years ago, and I hope you'll think twice about the role you want to play next time the district insists what it really needs is just more money.

Instead of giving more cash, demand that the district negotiate more meaningful evaluations that have consequences in salary, professional development and retention. Give to school-board members that fight for this, and never again vote for the ones that don't deliver.

In the meantime, your money would be better spent by announcing your intention to donate a $2,500 bonus to the teacher who most improves your student's achievement that year, or by donating directly to the programs your child loves.

ANDREW BLUMENFELD is a graduate of La Cañada High School and a student at Princeton University. He can be reached at aj.blumenfeld@gmail.com.

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