DECEMBER 20, 2008 8:46PM

Can we stop school closures in West Contra Costa?

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Whenever social programs are cut, wages are frozen, cost of living allowances are not paid, the excuse is given that there are no funds.  The governing body turns its pockets inside out and says,"look at the money here just a little lint and lots of bills." The agents of the state just shrug there shoulders and say, "whine all you like but you can't get water from a stone".  They count on the "cooler heads" in the community to back them up and try to convince the "unruly masses" that, "we have no choice, we must all tighten our belts for the greater good."  

The 900 kids who walked out of class on Friday December 19th from the Kennedy High School in Richmond California don't agree that cooler heads should prevail. Their action is just the beginning of what promises to be a hard fought social battle in our school district.

Unfortunately in our community there are a number of these cooler heads emerging to help sell cutbacks to the indignant and unruly who have the audacity to hope that their kids can have a decent eduction in a local school with well paid teaching staff and a full curriculum.  

For example Francie Kunaniec, librarian at Adams Middle school who posts on  states,"those who are fighting against school closures need to show immediately how the district can balance its budget, economically run small schools of 200- 300 students and fix the physical plant of schools like Kennedy which suffer from years of neglect. Only then will the schools stay open. The  district needs to submit budgets for the next 3 years this June. We do  NOT want a state administrator in charge, taking over the  Superintendent and Board positions."

Francie makes the same arguments that the board members make and  Tony Thurmond (newly elected school board member) made to me directly in a discussion following the school board meeting on December 18th. 

The problem with Francie and Tony's outlook is that they place the onus on the victims of the cuts to find the missing money.  The fact that the school district does not have the money is not in question. Those of us who demand no cuts make no beef over bloated salaries for administrators who do not provide what they are paid to provide (educational resources) and property which lies outside the district which could be sold.  The question is not one of waste inside the district it is a question of political will in the State and the Nation.  

This last week we have heard all kinds of rhetoric from the Obama team about commitment to education.  Indeed we have heard that from every windbag who comes to occupy the White house.  It seems to be par for the course to talk up education.  But where the rubber hits the road is in the funding. So the question is how to assure funding finds its way to the schools.  And that is a question of national priorities. 

So we have to as how are national priorities set and how can they be influenced.   Over the last few months we saw the end of one of the greatest speculative bubbles in all time. Too much capital chasing after too few profit making assets drove ficticious valuations to all time highs in commercial paper (credit fault swaps, derivitives) and real estate. When the bubble burst the bankers and speculators, who had lined their pockets for years with multi-million dollar bonuses as well as making outrageous contributions to politicians who in turn were happy to write laws and get rid of regulations as their contributors saw fit, came running to congress threatening that if they were not bailed out armageddonwould be upon us. 

 With little hemming and hawing in about two weeks the congress came together and took over $1,000.00 from every family in the country and gave it to the bankers in a $800,000,000,000.00 bail out.  And that is how quickly priorities can be changed and addressed. 

Another example on 9/11/01 this county came under attack by a group of extremists who were originally funded and lauded by the Reagan administration. Immediately this nation turned on a dime and went into war making mode. Then the administration got carried away with itself and spread the war from Afghanistan to Iraq. It is now clear that the justification for the war in Iraq was fabricated and the real reasons was later reveled by one time finance guru, Alan Greenspan, who stated the reason we were in Iraq was for oil. 

Now this little 5 year expedition into Iraq is costing us ten billion dollars a month.  Joseph Seidletz, Nobel award winning economist, states that if the war were to end today the total long term cost will approach three trillion dollars.  Again the issue is how priorities are made and set. 

President-elect Obama promises to get out of Iraq in 16 months but the costs at home are pilling up.  The results of mismanagement of the economy and foolish wars for geo-political gain should not be borne by our children, our teachers,workers, and taxpayers who require tax dollars be spent at home. 

As Greenspan explained the war was for oil and during this latest period the oil companies have had record multi billion dollar profits.  They should be paying for the war.  Actually they should be nationalized under worker and community control.  Our schools in Richmond sit under the shadow of one of the most profitable oil companies in the world's refineries (Cheveron) but we are supposed to accept cuts to our schools. Please!

Changing priorities is not easy but can be done.  Martin Luther King lead thousands of young people in a campaign against Jim Crow, it took years but things were changed.  Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the genocidal war in Vietnam, it took years but as the American people changed their priorities the war had to end.  Just last month a few hundred workers at the Republic window and door factory in Chicago were laid off without their just pay. They occupied the factory and in three weeks they forced got the attention of the nation and they were paid their back wages, severance and vacation pay. 

Here in the WCCUSD we could force a change of priorities if we stood up and took united direct action.  For example if all the teachers and students supported by the parents walked out the school for a week and marched on the district office and organized a statewide march to Sacramento the pressure would be unstoppable. The Feds would be running to bail us out and get us back in school and quiet so that such an uprising did not spread.  

The choice is ours do we stand up and fight for our kids or make excuses turn tail and accept the theft perpetrated by the bankers, speculators, politicians and war profiteers?  

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I'm sure West Contra Costa is not the only school district facing this issue - not to mention other local government bodies that provide vital community resources such as libraries and health clinics. We have all been taking "no" for an answer far too long. The bailouts of Wall Street and the Big Three automakers prove that when push comes to shove, the money can and will be found.

Now ordinary people have to figure out how we can push and shove just as hard, even though we do not have corporate jets available to take us to D.C. to address Congress. Part of the answer is that we have a lot more real live people behind us than those folks do. We just have to be ready to deploy our forces effectively.

The students who marched on the school district offices provided a fabulous example for others to follow. With enough public pressure, loud and clear, the school boards and similar bodies can be forced to find the money - in Sacramento or Washington or wherever they have to go to get it - instead of capitulating without a fight.
Indeed you may have noticed that on Friday the Governator hit the state workers of Cali-forn-ia with a 10% across the board pay cut. That may well be worth another post but suffice to say that 10% is basically my property tax payment for the year. I can imagine that many state workers will be facing real hardship due to this wage cut. The unions which the state workers belong too long ago forgot what class struggle means. They all threaten the governor with law suits to prevent breach of contract. Of course if there were serious they would say the governor has breached contract and without a contract we can not have our members work. A class struggle leadership would call for all workers to walk out on the first day the cuts are to be implemented. I suspect in about three days we would win with no cut in pay and the bosses and politicians would be shaking in their boots all the way across the lower 48.