Friday, September 26, 2003

It's friday and at the end of a week I'd not be particularly interested in re-living ... .

Worked at least three 15-hour days; Planning Commission (where the issue we were supporting was postponed for lack of a quorum), City Council (where we suffered a monumental loss of a project I'd been working on for many months - the Ford Assembly Plant Project), County Board of Education where the Barbara Alexander Academy (look this story up in the archives on the S.F. Chronical online) was denied its desperate plea to become chartered, and last night where I sat through two hours of drivel waiting for an agenda item on WalMart's anticipated (and controversial) move into our local mall. Time (and Betty) ran out at about 8:50 p.m. when it was obvious that the nine o'clock curfew would come up before the item did!

Some weeks are like that.

The Barbara Alexander story was the most difficult. Literally cried over that one.

Picture this: This band of teachers, parents, a few students, two ministers, from the poorest and most crime-ridden community and the westermost end of the county and our Assembly District.  They filled every available chair in the meeting room of the 30-miles and light-years away from home, in the affluent suburbs of the Diablo Valley -- at the easternmost end of the county. Culturally, this was Venus vs. Mars. In the front of the room sitting in lush high-backed executive chairs before microphoned desks were neatly coiffed women and men casually BrooksBrothered and all well over fifty. In the audience chairs sat the colorfully church-clothed dreadlocked corn-rowed braided-extensioned community of the Alexander Academy from the infamous Iron Triangle District of Richmond, California. All of the power in that room was seated behind those intimidating desks. All of the need, in the chairs facing them. The power was all White. Need, all Black. These people were planets apart.

Seated with the community was one white woman, a supporter (a truly brave soul) and a female reporter from the S.F. Chronicle who was doing a follow up story to the first poignant one of some weeks ago.

The very eloquent principal, a member of the Sims family of loving educators made her presentation to a board that I imagined could hardly get beyond their "...what in the world have they done to their hair?..." stage, in order to hear to the words being spoken.

Board member: "Melitta, we're holding this special meeting in order to allow you the time to submit the additional materials. I see that you've not complied with the request for the audit and ..." . (Addressing this principal by her first name startled me. Sounded inappropriate in this setting.) Later noted that the board also address one another informally, as well, so I may be displaying some super-sensitivity here.

Melitta: "That was only last week. You must understand that because of our financial problems, we have to use a pro bono accountant and attorney -- and that means that they don't get to our work until after they've completed everything else."

School Board member: "... and, according to the regulations of the fire department, you have far too many students for the space you're using" They're in borrowed rooms of a local non-profit. They ended the year with 80 kids, I believe.

(Betty's brain): "Some of the kids in this community are sleeping in cars in the driveway because their homes can't accommodate them. They've never known the kind of individual space that schools require."

Board member: "I notice here that you're showing some 19 and 20-year olds enrolled. The state won't allow ADA funding for anyone who is not a continuing student. So you can't count them in your enrollment."

Melitta: "Some of these kids are being plucked from street corners or returning from prison. They've turned a corner in their lives and want redemption. This is the least we can do. That's our studentbody. We save them."

Board member: "There is no way that we can grant a charter for you since, according to state law, you must have the required enrollment in place on October 1 and you can't possibly make that deadline at this point."

Melitta: "But that time line is irrelevant for us. Except for our continuing kids, new enrollments don't show up until the end of the first report card period. That's when they say, "F--k this!" and split (if we're lucky they come to us). It's impossible to gauge our enrollment until after the regular school year is in progress."


"The Iron Triangle has the highest murder rate in the Bay Area; higher then San Francisco and Oakland when measured by percentage of the population. You can't expect that what is happening in our community can be localized forever. It will move out and effect everybody, eventually."

We're working with children nobody wants and that the school system can't handle. We love them. We're turning them around."

Board member: "But Melitta, for the sake of the taxpayers of this state, there are simply procedures that must be followed in order for accountability to occur. We've asked you to provide us tonight with a copy of your policies and procedures and -- I've looked carefully through all of these papers -- and they're simply not here. I move that the application for a charter be denied, regretfully."

Death by process!

Melitta and her family will have to go out now and take some meaningless low-paying jobs in order to pay off the over $150,000 indebtedness they've run up in trying to salvage their little school. Such a loss to us all!

...and all it might have taken was the willingness on the part of the school district to take this incredible group of stalwarts and wrap the necessary services around them. Most "Policies and Procedures" are simply boilerplate that could have been supplied them with their name inserted at the top in the appropriate places.

Got home late on Wednesday night, having missed both the gubernatorial debate and West Wing, and was so depressed by the stupidity of it all that I climbed into bed without even stopping to watch the news.

And would you believe that I'm strongly opposed to charter schools per se? Have always seen them as just another way of by-passing our system of public education. Barbara Alexander Academy is the textbook example of the most ideal of justifications for their existence as an authentic alternative when all else fails.

Need to do some attitude adjusting, but first I'll ask our office to meet with the Sims family office to see what the state can do to save their enterprise.

On the other hand, maybe I'll just call Oprah!

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