A couple weeks ago I went to Washington, D.C., with other students from Encinal High School with the Close-Up program. On one particularly rainy day we were schlepped across the Potomac to the Jefferson Memorial. We quickly ducked under the classical rotunda to escape the downpour and were greeted by the towering brass figure of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president, and one of the fathers of public education in the United States.
Jefferson believed that each of us was born with an intrinsic liberty, that every American was king. He also believed in the sovereignty of knowledge, that the only way to fulfill our destiny of democracy was to be educated, and that this system needed the support, monetarily and otherwise, of the public. To that end, he created the University of Virginia, the first public, non-religious university in the U.S., an accomplishment he valued more than the presidency.
Jefferson would roll over in his Monticello grave to see the state of education in California today. We have an impossible education funding system that isn't equitable or equal, and a governor who has no qualms with cutting $4.5 million in one year from AUSD, which has caused the school board to slash sports, eliminate elementary music and threaten to close schools next year. When taken from a student's perspective, these cuts are absolutely unconscionable.
As Encinal's ASB president, I know students for whom high school athletics are much more than just fun activities. GPA requirements keep many kids in school, out of trouble and on track to graduate. For some, athletics is their only path to being the first member of their family to go to college. The loss of elementary music would be equally devastating, and as I was never blessed with athleticism, something I can relate to more personally. I'm a musician, as is my brother Benjamin, who has filled our neighborhood with cacophonous percussion since 2nd grade. My youngest brother Elijah will be a kindergartner next year, and is already mimicking Ben's licks on a metal garbage can. In fact, Elijah has taken to collecting loose change around the house to "save his school" and the music program that he's desperately looking forward to.
The arguments against Measure H simply aren't grounded in fact. A "get the money back from the state" strategy, which is already being worked on, is an extremely time consuming legal process, and we need money now. A "cut administrative fat" strategy stands on faulty logic: AUSD pays $369 per student on administration, 12th in Alameda County, and dwarfed by Emeryville's $1,519. Even if we were to lay off all district administrators, including school principals, we'd only save $3.5 million, not enough to completely close the gap and put teams on the field and students in music classes.
Our community is like a complicated web of issues and institutions: Pull one end and all others follow. There is no Alamedan who can claim that she is independent from the success of AUSD. Quality schools boost property values, reduce crime rates and enrich the local economy, a personal benefit that far outweighs the equivalent of two trips to Starbucks a month.
The silver lining is that this issue has caused Alameda students, in the Jeffersonian mold, to become active in the political process, protesting and registering to vote. Alameda has a chance, on June 3, to join in support of their students. Newly 18, I will be voting for the first time in support of Measure H. I hope you will join me.
Ian Merrifield is the student body president at Encinal High School.