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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

Even at 'Affluent' Agoura High, Education Dollars Are Scarce

October 15, 2000|NAN CANO | Nan Cano teaches at Agoura High School

Academic improvements in public schools that resulted in higher Academic Performance Index scores and consequent cash rewards were the stuff of headlines recently.

I teach in one of the schools that garnered these rewards. Here's what it means from the perspective of a public school teacher.

Agoura High School has been described as an affluent school. Although most of our families earn comfortable incomes and live in lovely homes, the school is not a posh center of learning. It is a vigorous, creative, safe place, but it is not luxurious. We line up for the same piece of the financial pie as every other school in the state.

I teach two sections of humanities, English III honors and two sections of English IV. I work with a total of 160 students in five classes.

Last week, I received my regular budget for the year. My budget will have to cover extra books I want to use, paints and paper for humanities work in art, erasers and whiteboard markers, my desk supplies, classroom decorations, even tissues for the kids, who never seem to know they have colds.

I have $45 to spend. For all that. For the entire year.

My students would spend that on a couple of CDs or a new blouse. Their parents would buy lunch. I have serious decisions to make not only on classroom supplies but on how much I will spend on my students from my own wallet.

Before school started, Office Depot ran an ad in which a young teacher and her husband worry over their bills, but the teacher firmly states that she needs to buy things because the kids need them. Abashed, the husband joins her in the check-out line and they ruefully glance at each other as they sacrifice for a classroom of other people's children.

That television spot made me sad. It works on the assumption that of course there will never be enough school money, so teachers will always be generous, right? When I was in Office Depot doing the very same thing in late August, a gaggle of young teachers was swooping around buying things for their first classrooms. And so another generation of givers begins.

*

If I ever see money from the state of California for test improvements, I will have an even tougher call to make. I could only help my students raise their scores because 12 other teachers had tilled the soil before me, preparing them for the next range of difficulty in concepts and expression. I was in the right place at the right time, although I certainly worked hard to refine the skills and abilities nurtured by my colleagues.

Will I accept the money and spend it? I remember worrying about loans when my own children went to college. I remember the trips my husband and I did not take, the restaurants we did not visit, the cars I still don't drive. We both work hard and we have managed a comfortable life for ourselves and our family, but we did so by being cautious and thrifty.

I see teaching colleagues working extra hours, teaching summer school for the basic needs their salaries just do not cover. I remember the terribly poor boy (yes, right here in Agoura) who could not fund his senior year--college applications, prom, graduation--and so I did.

For 25 years of teaching in California, I smuggled classroom supplies and equipment into my home budget. How could I not? I will not stop. It is called love, devotion, integrity, passion for ideas.

Will I accept a small cash acknowledgment this year when the state has the funds to share? Yes, I will.

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