Yesterday, I attended a delightful ladies-only tea party hosted by my friend Anne during which I engaged in inspiring conversation with new and old friends from all over the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the topics on which we touched was the problems with our local area’s habit of establishing tiny school districts. One of the major threats to educational opportunity in the Bay Area is the fact that these tiny school districts concentrate economic and cultural capital in neighborhood schools with high real estate tax income. Essentially, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, and Los Altos use their tax income to fund public schools without contributing to the culture of the larger communities in which they are a part. Ignoring for a moment that they are in separate counties, imagine what it would be like if East Palo Alto and Palo Alto were in the same school district.
As if this weren’t enough, then the parent councils of the public schools in local high-income neighborhoods expect additional revenues for school programs to come from massive parent contributions, sometimes in the order of hundreds or thousands per family. At the same time, many of these schools do “community service” projects raising funds and collecting school supplies for foreign communities (in places like Costa Rica or Afghanistan–where help is needed, but not necessarily under these auspices) while ignoring the poverty of neighboring locales. I saw this years ago in Contra Costa County, where libraries and athletics departments in West Contra Costa County were forced to close due to lack of funds, while charitable giving in locales such as Orinda, Lafayette, or Danville might be directed abroad.