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Steve Lunetta: The choir conundrum

Posted: January 25, 2009 9:20 p.m.
Updated: January 26, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Even when things seem dark and dreary, it is still possible to find bright rays of sunshine in our culture and society. The other night was a perfect example.

Trish and I just spent the evening at the Hart High School Choral Department's most recent show performance called "Groovy Baby, A Journey with Austin Powers, Cabaret 2009."

These kids are truly remarkable. Solos by Danny Sickafoose, Marin George, Connie Johnson, Alex Dominguez, Hayden Scott, Alec Torres, Sam Bashor, Cassie Schmitt, Manny Zelino, Kevin Roberts, Sidney Davis, Carly Moniz, Lee Gomez, Miky Tayoba, Emma Scott and Lena Nason all lit up the stage.

The standout performance of the evening was clearly Pilar Penaranda's performance of "Over the Rainbow." Get this girl on Idol.

The Sound Vibrations group, the mixed "varsity" choir, gave an exceptional performance made even more remarkable because they've only been working on it three weeks.

Choir Director Gail Hart is the dynamo who powers the entire program. Her dedication, drive and desire to develop her kids into the best stage performers possible is evident in the amazing product that she produces year in and year out.

Mrs. Hart is a shining example of what a public school system employee should aspire to be - selfless, disciplined, and a person we can trust with our children.

As my son danced and sang on stage that evening, I found myself horribly conflicted. How could I, a fiscal conservative who is often critical of wasteful education spending, support cuts in a school system that produces high-quality programs like the one I was watching?

As we all know, the state is in a financial crisis. With budget deficits estimated at $42 billion over the next 18 months, hard choices must be made by the Legislature.

The only ways to fix this mess are to increase taxes, decrease spending, or have some combination of both.

Unfortunately, California already has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. And with a major economic downturn bordering on depression, the raising of taxes in any form seems rather foolish.

The governor recently proposed a 600 percent increase in the tax charged to alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine. Two Buck Chuck sold at Trader Joe's would be around $2.19. "Two Buck and Nineteen Cents Chuck" just doesn't sound right.

Hence the only rationale approach seems to be cutting the budget. However, people like Marty Hittleman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, believes that education funding is the "golden calf" that must be spared at any expense; "Long-term solutions to our state's revenue shortfall are missing due to Republicans' allegiance to a blind and inflexible antitax philosophy. ... Our polling has shown that Californians are willing to support our schools, including a willingness to pay additional taxes for that purpose" (Calif. Progress Report 1/16/09).

So, in other words, raise taxes to protect school funding. Of all liberals, it is liberal educators who are most out of touch with reality. Our economy is in very poor shape, businesses are closing and folks are losing their jobs, but Hittleman thinks we need to be taxed more.

Does anyone remember what happened during the 1978 Proposition 13 campaign? I was in high school at the time.

Administration and teachers told us that all sports and extracurricular activities would be canceled. We were forced to fill out "alternative" schedules for only four periods/hours per day because schools would need to close at noon.

I was brain-washed to believe that Prop. 13 and Howard Jarvis were the incarnations of evil. Like smoking weed or rooting for the San Francisco Giants. Prop. 13's impact on the schools would be unthinkable.

Then Prop. 13 passed. Guess what? All of the doomsday scenarios never panned out. Our sports programs stayed in place and we kept our six-period day.

The sun still rose and set, teachers kept their jobs, and I still got a decent education.

So what happened? It's rather obvious. The school system had to cut the waste. Our cross-country team stopped taking long bus rides to invitationals and the finger-painting club went belly-up, but everything else was normal.

The same thing will happen now. The $7 billion cut (or should we say lessening of the scheduled increase) in education can and will be absorbed by the system.

Districts can implement a hiring freeze on non-teaching staff and decrease this cost through attrition.

Instead of wholesale firings of teachers, maybe the union could agree to decrease wages 5 percent to 10 percent and save those jobs?

And let's curb travel, training, and perks for staff (just like everyone else is doing now).
Time to join the real world, Mr. Hittleman.

Programs like Hart's Show Choirs would not be touched. Parental support for these types of activities is far too great for them to be discontinued.

Many of them are financially supported by students and their families, anyway. Also, the hue and cry would be deafening to the local elected school boards responsible for budgetary considerations.

Steve Lunetta is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Right About Now" runs Mondays in The Signal.


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