Monday, June 26, 2006

Local Cranks

The New York Times published an article on June 26, the bulk of which is probably hidden behind its subscriber firewall.

It tells the story of a local guy who wants to support unions and the American labor force, while protecting local education for the benefit of legal Americans who pay taxes. His concern is that illegal immigrants are living in his town and that they take up jobs (by standing on street corners looking for roofing jobs) and send their children (some of whom may be disabled) to public school.

There are the schools and hospitals filled with children from illegal apartments like the basement dwelling, which Mr. Nicolosi calls "a little dungeon, windowless."
"Two children are in school, and one is handicapped — that's $10,000 for elementary school, $100,000 a year for special education," he said. "Why am I paying taxes to support that house?"
One man's frustration over a family in a basement goes a long way toward explaining the grass-roots anger over immigration policy that many members of Congress say they keep hearing in their districts. And it also illustrates the unsettling consequences such anger can set in motion.

Mr. Nicolosi has set about reporting all illegal apartments to the City officials, intent upon rooting the illegal immigrants from his perfect suburbia. He has become a regular letter-to-the-editor writer and has run for office.

But as the national debate [regarding immigration] flared, so did Mr. Nicolosi's frustration at what he saw in his neighborhood. Those clipped front lawns? Mowed by underpaid Latino workers. Those tidy homes? Contractors hired immigrants off the books to repair roofs and replace pipes, Mr. Nicolosi said, instead of training, and decently compensating, someone like the 20-year-old American up the block who needed a job.
"They're telling us Americans don't want to do these jobs," Mr. Nicolosi said. "That's a lie. The business owners don't want to pay. I know what my grandparents fought for: fair wages and days off. Now we're doing it in reverse."

Mr. Nicolosi is also concerned about the cost to the public schools when illegal immigrants show up at the door. Remember this part?

"Two children are in school, and one is handicapped — that's $10,000 for elementary school, $100,000 a year for special education," he said. "Why am I paying taxes to support that house?"

Beyond reporting the apartment to the City and writing letters, he's also become a political animal, running for school board.


School Board?

Hold on, he's concerned about day laborers, taxes, quality of life in the town, scruffy loiterers and immigration, and he runs for school board?

Well, he's lost his bid three times, so at least someone in town is paying attention, but actually, this IS the problem with public education in America. Damn School Boards, or at least the members thereof.

School Board is usually the lowest elected position in any town, well, except for City Clerk and City Dogcatcher. You need no politial affiliation, no experience, no money, and often the voters simply don't pay attention to who's running. To run for School Board in my district, you need to only prove residency and pony up about $50 ($300, if you want a statement printed in the voter guide).

People always pretend that they're worried about the cost of public education, that if we were simply to cleanse the schools of all those who don't belong, then the decent tax-payers of this fair city could support the system. Eh. No. You can't.

(We tried to pass a flat-fee land tax to support the schools, and the most common reason cited for voting against it was that there were kids from That Other Town in our Middle School, who were benefitting from Public Education while their parents "dodged" the flat tax. Ummm. Fifty-seven kids. Out of about Thirteen Hundred. Yeah. It's all their fault that education's expensive.)

Then there's the common trick of weaving a concern for children into your larger political argument. Clearly Mr. Nicolosi has a bug up his butt about day-laborers and illegal apartments, and that's his perogative. If he wanted to run for City Council on some sort of "zoning compliance and investigation" platform, then please go ahead. (I'm not sure that zoning compliance is a sexy issue, but who knows? It might strike a chord.)

Instead Mr. Nicolosi starts off by complaining that the illegal children are using up Special Education money and costing HIM money. Uh, where are you planning on going with that argument? That white kids who have a reading disability are acceptable into the public schools, but if they have cerebral palsy, then they can't get an education? Because you're going to have to have some criteria here if you want to make Special Education cost-effective.

(News Flash: Special Education has never been and never will be cost-neutral. Hasn't been funded at proper levels since LBJ proposed it. Deal with it. Handicaps suck.)

After playing up the "What About The Children" scenario, he moves on to his real concern: economic shift and immigration law. He has every right to go fight that battle, but how is he going to address it on the School Board??

One day every School Board in America will be filled with people dedicated to education. I'd like to see a majority of the Boards made up by retired teachers, teachers who understand what the hell PAR, PARS, PERB, PERS, IEP, IEA, and IDEA could possibly mean.

I've sat on the School Board for almost three years, and so far I've overseen exactly two, yes, 2, as in slightly more than one, educational innovations for our District.

Because most of the time we're fighting off local cranks like this one.

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