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Searching for a cause in Sausalito

From time to time I’ve mentioned the disastrous Kansas City experiment, which tends to be a rallying point for those who dare to contradict the Kozol doctrine that increased spending will cure all that ails American education.  Looks like somebody didn’t get the memo, because we have a Kansas City for the new millennium:

Sausalito Marin City teachers are the highest-paid in the county, with an average salary in 2004-05 of $70,981 compared with the Marin average of $58,256. The district has three schools, an annual budget of almost $5 million, an enrollment of 283 K-8 students, and a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 14 to 1. Per pupil expenditure is $22,232, three times the state average.

Still, more than 50 percent of the district’s students fail to graduate from high school – sparking an attempt by trustees to turn around the district’s educational program.

This is a school district that has nearly everything in its favor.  It has a tiny number of students overall.  It has a ridiculously small class size (i.e. student/teacher ratio).  While it includes the city of Marin, which tends to be low-income, it also includes the upscale town of Sausalito in its boundaries.  And it has more money than it knows what to do with.  But performance has been so odious that parents traditionally flee the district for private schools!

Poor academic achievement in the Sausalito Marin City School District has rendered the concept of public neighborhood schools largely meaningless as dozens of children in the district, both black and white, flock to private schools.

Even the district’s relative wealth – it spends $22,232 per pupil annually, more than three times the state average – is not enough to coax students into the district.

"They are really being deprived of an education," said Marin City resident Catherine Shine, whose youngest daughter, Olivia, 6, attends private St. Patrick School in Larkspur, and oldest, Ashley, 13, briefly attended the district’s Willow Creek charter school before attending Mill Valley Middle School.

"These kids are getting a (poor) education and nobody seems to care. É I can’t figure out where the money goes."

George Stratigos, president of the Sausalito Marin City School District Board, said Shine’s complaint sounds familiar.

"Those were my words from 10 years ago," he said.

Nearly a decade ago, Stratigos led "Project Homecoming," a successful recall campaign of the school board that culminated in his ascent to the position of board president. In an interview at the time, he vowed to change "the long-standing culture of failure of the Sausalito Schools District to a culture for excellence."

In effect, Stratigos said, his goal was to attract would-be private school students to the public schools.

Today, Stratigos and another recall proponent-turned-trustee, Shirley Thornton, invoke nearly identical language to describe the district’s condition.

It’s been ten years.  And nothing has changed.  More on Stratigos here.  His blog is here.  And other Marin Independent Journal stories on this may be found here and here.  (Hat tip to Alan Bonsteel–who, come to think of it, really should start blogging–for bringing this to my attention.)