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Stateside with Rosalea: The 3Cs Versus The 3Rs

Stateside with Rosalea

The 3Cs Versus The 3Rs

I despise the three Cs – cellphones, cable TV, and credit cards. They are the circuses and instant bread that no politician in this country would dare to challenge, yet they are the cause of more social and economic ills than any other “legitimate” business. Why? Because they suck money out of people’s pockets at an alarming, uncontrolled rate, provide very few jobs, and the few companies that operate in those fields are usually incorporated in states where they pay little or no taxes. They advertise relentlessly and with great success, hooking people into punitive contracts, and they don’t treat their shareholders any better than they do their customers.

All those states suffering from budget shortfalls would get back in the black in very short order if they were to slap an operational tax even as low as one cent on a hundred dollars on the companies providing the 3Cs in their state. But that remedy is seemingly unthinkable, despite the obvious fact that money taken out of pockets to pay the 3Cs is money not available to buy goods and services that provide jobs within the local community, thus increasing the state’s tax take.

A nice fat tax take would enable California to fund education at a decent level, but instead of slapping the 3Cs down, the governor is slapping down the 3Rs. He’s jumping on the federal government’s bandwagon in doing so; since 1995, there has been a growing gap between what the state sends to the federal government and what it gets back, especially for education-related purposes. At a local level, school districts struggle to meet the requirements that will allow them to qualify for state and federal funds, to the extent that March 2 saw a statewide bond proposal to make money available to schools to pay for such basic things as repairing leaky toilets.

The statewide bond was barely approved, getting 50.6 percent; a local measure in West Contra Costa County, to provide the school district with funds from a parcel tax, was defeated, despite getting 62.5 percent approval, because it required a 2/3 majority. Here is what local property owners were asked to volunteer money for by saying yes to the measure: To maintain reduced class sizes; purchase textbooks and teaching materials, attract and retain qualified teachers, aides and counselors; enhance core subjects including reading, writing, math and science, and improve custodial services, shall West Contra Costa Unified School District be authorized to levy, for 5 years only beginning July 1, 2004, an annual tax of 6.8 cents per square foot of total building area or $6.80 per vacant parcel, with an exemption for eligible seniors?

That wasn’t the only school district in Contra Costa County to have a parcel tax or bond on the ballot; the other two, in more affluent districts, also failed to get the 2/3 approval required to pass. But the failure of the West CoCo County parcel tax is very big news here at the moment, because the school district then did what some newscasters last night called “outrageous” – they cut sports, music, library, and counseling programs, beginning next year. Oh, and the student radio station.

Richmond isn’t the only city with schools affected by this, but it’s the one that’s getting most attention, not least because students staged a walk-out and rally yesterday. In many ways, Richmond is a city dear to the heart of the Bay area. A small community with a mix of industrial and horticultural enterprises as its mainstay before the Second World War, it was chosen by the steel magnate Kaiser to be one of the West Coast sites for his lucrative business building the Liberty ships Franklin D. Roosevelt had promised to Churchill. The town’s population grew exponentially as the “Okies and Arkies” who’d fled the dustbowl for rural California just in time for the Depression moved north from the orchards and fields where they weren’t wanted, and crowded boxcars full of labourers were shipped in by rail from the South.

People slept in cars and movie theatres, and occupied beds on a shift basis as the Richmond shipyards worked all day and night. Empty lots were appropriated by the federal government for housing, some of it using award-winning innovations for multi-unit structures, but most of it cheap and quick and nasty. The city’s downtown thrived and the local blues music scene rivalled anything back East. At a time when segregation was still the legislated norm in this country, economic necessity made a mockery of it, and African Americans from the rural South, in particular, found opportunities in Richmond that they never would have had back home.

Then the US entered the war, and the war ended and with it the need for workers. The heart of Richmond’s business district closed down when a developer who was going to create a shopping mall didn’t. The big nationwide businesses left to go to a nearby mall, in effect killing the downtown neighborhood. Some Richmond families have been on welfare now for four generations; some areas of the city - like the infamous Iron Triangle – are ruled by drug gangs. Yet those who live in Richmond love it.

Because of all this history, the churches in Richmond have a very strong bent towards social justice. Environmental justice is also a big concern as a result of the frequent accidents at the oil refineries in the area and past attempts to dump toxic waste nearby. People who live in Richmond are not the sort to roll over and beg for yet another kick in the goolies just because they’re poor. And poorly served by their elected officials at all levels.

In one sense, the abolition of sports, music, library, counseling fits with the wording of the failed parcel tax measure, which was seeking to “enhance core subjects” – largely because, I suppose, it’s the statewide testing on those subjects that secures funding for the school. But although they can’t be considered part of the 3Rs, those programs aren’t extra to education; they’re not some kind of unnecessary supersizing. They provide and support fundamental skills and abilities that enable success across all aspects of education.

C’mon, Governator, show some spine! Quit slapping kids around and deal to the 3Cs instead.

ENDS


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