Unless you have been living under a rock or hibernating for the last 20 years, it is inconceivable you would be singing the praises of our public schools in Santa Barbara. Although we have some very good schools, they are vastly outnumbered by brick and mortar edifices masquerading as schools. Too many schools in our town do very little other than warehousing kids until they spit them out into the real world, totally unprepared to face the rigors of the workplace and the responsibilities of being a good citizen. 

Who is to blame for the unmitigated disaster of producing a generation of illiterate folks, who will likely never escape the chains of poverty and other social problems like drug addiction? There are many actors at fault for this untenable situation, but one in particular has to be the incumbents on our school boards, who blithely fiddled while Rome burned.

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In the interest of transparency, I should disclose I am running for the Santa Barbara County Education Office School Board against an ineffectual incumbent.

Now I am sure some readers think I am overreacting and crying wolf to get attention. Surely the schools can’t be this bad? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they are. While it’s bad enough that over 50 percent of students in Santa Barbara are not proficient in English or math, there are many schools performing far below these median scores. According to test scores, only 27 percent of McKinley’s students are passing English and, hold on to your seat, only 9 percent are passing math. At Cleveland, La Cumbre, Monroe, and Adelante, the numbers are less than 40 percent for math and/or English. There are other schools in the district only slightly better than these.

Lou Segal | Credit: Courtesy

So, what have our school board incumbents done while this raging fire is occurring right under their noses. You guessed it, nothing. Do you hear any real solutions from them? If you listen closely, they are great at making excuses or blaming everyone but themselves. You can also bet, as these incumbents plead for their jobs, students are falling further behind while the schools remain closed due to the virus.

But isn’t it unfair to blame them for societal ills over which they have little control? The short answer is no. They hire the superintendent and determine the policies under which the schools operate. In fact, there are many public charter schools in California with a far more challenging demographic profile that perform light-years better than Santa Barbara public schools. If they can do it, why can’t we? The answer is not hard to discern: incompetent school board members and administrators and the lack of a vision have all contributed to this sorry mess.

If you were trying to find the quintessential bloated bureaucracy, you wouldn’t have to look any further than our county education office. This is a $58 million agency that employs over 500 people, many of them administrators, and has a student population of 175 students. This costs taxpayers $330,000 per student. Yes, they do some other things, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone, including the teachers in our schools, who would know what they are. The county superintendent could have used her position to pressure the district schools to improve their performance, but sadly she didn’t.

The incumbent I am running against has been on the board for 21 years, running unopposed in every election. I’m sure he is good guy, but during his time on the board he has watched, from his privileged position, the disintegration of our public schools. What has he ever done to expose this wretched situation and what changes has he ever publicly advocated for to stop this long slow slide into the abyss? This election season will likely be the first time anyone will ever hear from him.

Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I humbly advise the voters in Santa Barbara that they deserve better schools, and they have the power to start the reclamation process. But first, they must vote the school board incumbents out of office.

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