Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pledging Allegiance

I've been thinking of the point made by author Lynda Barry in her essay, "The Sanctuary of School," when she asks, - and I'm paraphrasing here:

America makes its school children say the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school, but when will the country turn around and say the pledge back to its children - and mean it?

Janet Wilson's article about the school closure appears in the June 9 edition of the Foothills Sentry. (Wilson, as some know, is a Modjeska Canyon resident who wrote for the LA Times from 1996-2008. She is now a Senior fellow of the Institute for Justice and Journalism at USC's Annenberg school for Communication.)

The Sentry is available online but its format can be difficult to read online (PDF file - Wilson's article on page 9), so you'll try to find your own copy to read Wilson's article in its entirety with ease. (Please note, I have bolded certain phrases.)


When Charles Chapman learned that his seven-year-old daughter would need to take an 85 minute bus ride to reach elementary school next fall, much of it with rowdy high schoolers, he was shocked. The native of Orange County's rural Modjeska Canyon still recalls the boredom, lack of bathrooms and almost daily fights that broke out on his nearly identical interminable ride to high school.

"I took that bus ride my freshman and sophomore year, and it was terrible, said Chapman. "At least I was 14 or 15. My daughter, she is only seven. I don't know what kind of effect that's going to have on such a young child."

He and his wife are among scores of parents in Orange County's last undeveloped outposts who are already coping with the decision by Orange County Unified School District to close their children's historic neighborhood elementary school to save money. Despite vows to share the fiscal pain, district board members and top administrators have not cut their pay or benefits. Parents are now being told that up to three hours of daily commuting will be required to reach the new school by bus, even though it is barely 11 miles away.

Long and winding road

Retiring Silverado Elementary School co-principal Patricia Evans outlined the complicated new busing arrangements in an interview, and said parents would be formally notified in take-home packets. Modjeska Canyon pupils would be picked up at 6:30 a.m. and taken to the centrally located parking lot of their padlocked former school. Middle school and high school students would board another bus and head into town, while elementary school pupils would wind through lengthy Silverado Canyon to pick up more young students, finally arriving at Chapman Hills Elementary just before 8 a.m.

That leaves working parents like the Chapmans grappling with tough choices, and will put canyon children on board with some disturbing national trends. While research is limited, studies funded by the U.S. dept. of Education and other have shown that such long school bus rides – three times the average commute for an adult working in Los Angeles – could affect academic performance, family relationships and even community cohesion

…A sharply divided board voted 4-3 in March for the closure, following findings by top staff that busing students to Chapman Hills Elementary School would shave $263,000 off a 30 million budget shortfall.

Since then, despite earlier vocal pledges by the board and the superintendent to shoulder some of the district's economic pain too, board members have decided to leave in place their own health benefits, and annual stipends totaling $8,100 each. Supt. Renae Dreier continues to earn $250,000 per year, with no salary cuts for her or other top administrators. Negotiations are underway to cut teachers' salaries by nearly four percent. Dreier and another administrator who handles transportation did not return requests for comment. Dreier's assistant said that the board might revisit stipend and salary issues next month.

Canyon residents have battled the closing of Silverado for months, saying the facility could be converted into a revenue generating environmental academy. The closure could backfire, with many parents now considering pulling their children from the district. If they leave, OUSD could lose federal and state matching funds, critics said. They are holding out hope that board members will reconsider the decision at their June 18th meeting. Only one would need to switch his or her vote, although none indicated that they would…

Yes, the next board meeting is tomorrow, Thursday June 18. I hear that some people are planning to go and continue to make our case that our children deserve access to a public education that doesn't come at the expense of their safety, their ability to learn - or at the expense of our community. The meeting begins at 7 PM at 1401 N. Handy Street in Orange.

Others are continuing to write letters to the board members, the superintendent and local elected officials. (Our sidebar still has all the relevant information.)

Do consider writing letters to the Sentry about Janet Wilson's article. You can email them at:

Or mail your letters via US Post to:

Letters to the Editor
Foothills Sentry
10642 Morada Drive
Orange, CA 92869

Do what others have failed to do: pledge allegiance to our children.



  1. Great article by Wilson. It's good to see some local coverage with real depth.

  2. $250,000! That's some salary.

    By comparison, the president of the US makes $400,000.

  3. Picking up little kids at 6:30 AM! and then expecting them to study all day....

  4. They should have cancelled summer school - or scaled it back like LAUSD did.

  5. So what happened Thursday night? None of the board members who support you brought up keeping the school open with the new money they got, everyone just passed the budget with no discussion? And did I somehow miss all the people speaking on that agenda item to point out your arguments for not closing the school? It's hard to see what you still have as options if it's not over yet, please advise.

  6. 8:09-

    People are pursuing different options - clearly this is an issue larger than than the school and thr OUSD. Many of the trustees are beholden to the super -- and the super just collects her big check. The solution may indeed lie outside the district.