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Complacency's Role in Proposition A's Defeat

June 25, 1989

We, in South Pasadena, witnessed graphic evidence of the disintegration of the "American Ideal" on June 6.

By a mere 188 votes; through a lot of apathy; through misinformation . . . Proposition A was defeated. The measure would have raised $700,000 for the South Pasadena schools at the tiny cost of 25 cents per day per property owner.

I'd like to look at this small-town issue through several lenses because I believe this won't be a total loss if we can learn from it. As you're reading, imagine the big cities and let your mind create a picture based on this "small town."

The issue was difficult for seniors--it was hard to make the connection between their lives and the lives of today's schoolchildren. Many, however, had children in the district when it was more affluent, and certainly benefitted from it without having to experience today's anguish. However, no senior today would have been forced to pay under the measure because there was an easy exemption process built in for them.

On the other hand, it is a sinister and frightening fact that when school becomes "boring" because (it is) being taught with little or no creativity due to lack of funds, more students drop out. When students drop out, they turn to all types of "recreational" activities, including doing drugs, financing that activity through burglary and robbery, and resorting to gangs for group protection. These are critical issues for seniors to think about. Those who fed them scare tactics about "costs" and who stoked the fires of their fears about living destitute in old age deserve prosecution. . . .

We've all heard the arguments about how the schools are so important to the property values here. But have we really thought about how important the schools are? I am a single mother of two kids who have benefitted from these schools since they were old enough to go to school. I myself am a product of an expensive, demanding private school in the area and am an educational administrator. Over and over I have been struck by the dedication of teachers and administrators in South Pasadena who continually spend extra time and their own money so that the children might have an enriched curriculum. As the budgets get tighter and tighter this tendency has increased until now, I believe it is at the breaking point. The teachers will rightfully migrate to districts which will support enriched curriculum.

Picture, though, before they go, a scene in which I had the privilege to participate the day before the election. There were close to 30 excited fifth-graders who had been exquisitely prepared to perform a science experiment that will remain imprinted on their brains and which truly gave them a sense of the workings of the body. They were gowned and gloved as surgeons; they had carefully studied the diagram of the work they were to perform, and they went at the dissection of their frogs with a seriousness that outstripped many college students. Although I didn't see the other classes, I understand this was repeated with every fifth-grade class in the South Pasadena Unified School District. It was memorable.

Finally, ironically, it appears that our adult complacency played a great hand in the demise of Proposition A. At the 11th hour there were those who, when called and asked whether they needed help getting out to vote, replied, "Oh, I don't want to go now. The Lakers are on."

Can you imagine Magic or Kareem responding like that? Or the students in Tian An Men Square? Or the brand new voters in Poland? What's happened to us? What's happened to us? What will happen to us?

DARCY WILLIAMS

South Pasadena

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