As Usual, Kids Come Last. Are These Our Priorities?

Becky O'Malley
Saturday December 08, 2018 - 09:19:00 AM

It’s time for us all to get in touch with our inner Grinch. For some reason, it seems to be okay to get grinchy on the subject of Christmas, but many other sacred cows are protected territory. I’ve got my eye on one of them.

Friday’s Chronicle (I no longer call it the Comical since the news got so bad) has two stories which, when juxtaposed, are profoundly irritating.

First, on the front page, we learn that, because of some funny accounting, “All of a sudden, San Francisco has an extra $181 million to spend. It comes from excess education funds, and some officials hope that’s exactly how it will be spent: on education. Specifically, teacher pay raises.”

In your dreams, Josephine. Life is hard in the big city, and both mayor and supervisors have already thought of a passel of non-education ways to spend the money, all of them virtuous but none of them moving teachers any closer to a livable income in a place where it’s too expensive to live.

But tell that to the protagonist of story #2. This one can be found in the section of the Chronicle that’s handy to line the cat box, easy to find because it’s printed on green paper. Here we learn that an employee of the University of California at Berkeley, my very own alma mater, is getting a raise, from $1.5 million annually to about $3.25 million, give or take some chump change. He should be able to live on that.

And no, Josephine, he’s NOT a teacher. What’s he done to deserve this bonanza? 

He’s gotten our school into the Cheez-It Bowl. No kidding! Cheez-Its, that yummy conflation of carbs, fat and salt which are probably not even allowed in the lunchrooms of the San Francisco public schools.  

(I love clichés, especially this one, so useful these days: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.) 

What does this guy do at our university? He enables a select group of students from diverse backgrounds to bash their brains out on a regular basis in front of a cheering crowd. And to spend the winter holidays promoting Cheez-Its on TV.  

According to the article, his predecessor in this job was paid a mere $2.825 million on average, and when that guy was fired, presumably because the team missed the Cheez-It chance, he got a $5.8 million consolation prize. You could also live on that amount, even in San Francisco.  

Just imagine for the moment what sums like these could do for public school teachers.  

And have you seen any of the stories published in the last couple of years, about how many football players end their lives with tragically damaged brains, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)? Why in the name of righteousness is the once-proud Cal going forward with a “sport” that causes too many participants lifelong grief? 

The lucky coach specifically thanks Chancellor Carol Christ for her trust and confidence in him—doesn’t she know better than that? Can’t she process the scary data? Yes, I know she was an English Major at Rutgers, but I majored in Comp Lit at Cal and I know my way around enough STEM to process simple statistics about the longterm health cost of football to players. 

When I was an undergraduate, way back in the class of 1961, our foot ball team almost never won anything, and we were very proud of that. We knew that we beat Stanford on a regular basis, not in any Big Game but in Nobel prizes. I never knew anyone who went to football games except a girl in my French classes whose mother forced her to join a sorority, and she was taking French so she could escape to Paris as soon as she graduated. Myself, I never even learned the rules for football. 

School’s gone to hell, says my inner grinch.  

While we’re channeling grinches, how about the mammoth debt UCB has incurred tarting up the football stadium and building an attached Special Person Gym? 

The old Planet covered the best efforts of the widest possible range of Berkeley citizens, from Zachary Running Wolf to a doughty trio of old lady heroines, to tell UC it was making a big mistake with that stadium project, but they built it anyway and now they’re stuck with it. 

See, from the Daily Cal: UC Berkeley to pay $238M of Cal Athletics debt from stadium renovations.  

$238 million—even more than the $181 million windfall San Francisco schools are lusting over. 

Here in Berkeley, the swimming pool at Willard Junior High has been filled in with dirt for many years now. That happened on the watch of former Mayor Tom Bates, an old football player himself who’s proud of once playing in the Rose Bowl. 

Just one or two of those millions would probably get the Willard kids back in the water. Priorities? 

What about the fans? I’ve been told that boys just like to have fun, or at least some old boys and some old girls too. There have always been people who enjoy watching football games, including my late mother right up until her death at 98. But knowing as we do now that the players are risking permanent injury to their brains, perhaps it’s time to find some other entertainment for fans. Basketball is fun to watch, isn’t it?  

It certainly should not be the role of a would-be prestigious state university to enable students in such a dangerous pursuit to the tune of multiple millions of dollars a year. The claim is that alumni are paying the salary of the coach, but they’re getting a lot of hoopla in return. 

I’m one alumna among many alumnae and alumni who could afford to make a modest contribution to our old school, but don’t do it because of stories like these. Since the footballers are getting big corporate bucks from Cheez-Its and their ilk, we can assume that they don’t need our money anyhow.