Self Inflicted Fragging:Perhaps if juvenile humans were half as important as rats, they’d have a few friends in high places. But there were precious few on hand two weeks ago to witness the Santa Barbara School Board taking out a butcher knife and gutting-albeit reluctantly-$2.5 million worth of classes, services, and after-school sports programs from the school budget. Fewer still were there to speak out against it. And that’s just the start. In the weeks to come, the board will be forced to hack, slash, and eviscerate another $1.3 million from programs that affect the lives of real Homo sapiens. If we were talking about the rats of San Miguel Island-the target of a mass poisoning campaign a few years back-people would be willing to engage in civil disobedience and get arrested to prevent any damage from being done. And I still remember the crowds of indignant protesters who picketed a local pet store a few years back when it was discovered the owner had killed a sick pet rat-returned by a disgruntled customer-by placing it in a freezer. Animal Control and the District Attorney’s office quickly forced the owner to sell his business, finding him guilty of a whole pattern of negligent practices. I’m not defending the pet shop owner in question, but his method of dispatching rats is a lot kinder than the ones I inflict upon any rodents who get into my house.

My point isn’t to razz people for caring so deeply about underfed horses, island foxes, baby pigs, bald eagles, red-legged frogs, steelhead trout, the cinched testicles of rodeo broncos, and a species of salamander that gets in the mood for love only when it’s raining and the moon is full. Talk about picky. But when it comes to the juveniles of our own species, it seems the last few drops of human kindness have already been consumed. I’m not blaming the School Board; they don’t have the money. But I am suggesting that in a town where the Ty Warners of the world are spending $400 million on their dream homes, maybe we could find a few million bucks amid all their pocket change to help sustain basic school operations. (Now Ty is asking the Santa Barbara Cemetery to trim back its bluff-top trees; they’re blocking the poor man’s views.)

Everyone who’s run for the School Board in the past 15 years has paid lip service to engaging the community in serious fundraising campaigns; none have actually followed through. (It’s true some boardmembers have joined with the Santa Barbara Public Education Foundation, but it’s only raising a few hundred thousand dollars for supplemental programs, not the millions required to sustain the bare basics.) I say it’s time for the fat cats, big shots, over-the-hill celebrities, has-been rock stars, and all the inflamed egomaniacs who so selflessly raised millions for the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Council-until it imploded last year-to understand that textbooks and after-school sports programs can be just as sleek ‘n’ sexy as bullet-proof vests, bomb-sniffing dogs, and mothballed helicopters. To belabor the obvious, maybe if we restored seventh period for junior high school students-eliminated a few years ago in deference to chronic budget shortfalls-and preserved after-school sports, we could sleep better at night knowing that baby gangsters wouldn’t be as likely to kill each other by Saks Fifth Avenue on State Street using oversized shivs sharpened to surgical perfection.

I know it’s hopelessly fuzzy headed, but I still cling to the delusion that education can help equalize a lot of the inequalities in the world. And certainly in Santa Barbara there’s no shortage of those. The Foodbank, now entering its 25th year of operation, reports the number of hungry people it serves has increased by two-thirds countywide since 2000. More than half of those involve families with one working adult. The folks at UCSB’s Economic Forecast Project report that nearly 11.5 percent of the households on the South Coast are surviving on less than $15,000 a year. The gap between the gots and got-nots is growing. In the past six years, the number of people on the South Coast with incomes in excess of $100,000 has expanded from roughly 20 percent of the population to 25 percent. Those on the very bottom rung are declining, but at a very slow rate-400 percent slower, in fact, than throughout the nation as a whole. Translated, poor people in Santa Barbara stay that way a lot longer than poor people elsewhere in the United States. Even in the best of times, the schools can’t fix all this. But without proper resources, they sure can make it a lot worse.

While the district’s budget woes are hardly the School Board’s fault, the board can make a bad situation worse and did just that this Tuesday evening. That’s when it voted to reject a proposed charter school designed to help those very students chronically ignored and underserved by the district during the past few decades. I don’t pretend the proposal was perfect, but I can’t shake the suspicion that the board’s action was based on the pettiest of political considerations. I say that because School Boardmember Bob No»l hatched the idea for the charter school in the first place, and No»l-an unapologetically crusty curmudgeon-is widely reviled by his fellow boardmembers and district staff. In so doing, however, the board cut off its own noses to spite the face of the entire student community. Thanks a bunch.

In the meantime, by all means save the frogs, save the fish, and save the rats. But when you’re crossing State Street up by Saks, be sure to look both ways. If you’re not careful, you might be stampeded by a horde of knife-wielding juveniles. Who knows? One of them might be your own.


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