The Boonville schools are falling down. They are half a century old, erected long before the computer and energy technologies that modern education has come to depend on. When today's high school and much of the Elementary School were built, institutional architecture was already deep into the structural impermanence and assembly line aesthetic characteristic of the post-War educational process. Young people were commodified, you could say, becoming mere funding units for a failed system badly in need of revolutionary change. But the buildings, pedagogical change or no pedagogical change, are still falling down.
Until 1955, Anderson Valley's educational process was found in a cluster of graceful old buildings where the ungainly Elementary School now sits. Take away the building and it's a beautiful site, running west to Anderson Creek with stately old trees surrounding what was once the football field now hidden behind pale rectangles of poisonous building materials. The Elementary School is called the “Elementary School.” It's as if you named your children “Child One, Child Two and The Rest of Them. The buildings at the schools are as anonymous as Elementary School implies, flat roofs over utilitarian long corridors with a few trailers to accommodate the overflow funding units or, as they're often referred to in the maudlin communiqués from the apparat, “the kids.” Maybe we could call the Elementary School “5-0 Elementary” in recognition of forty years of unanimous school board votes, but I'm partial to Blanche Brown Elementary School after the gifted botanist and long-time Valley teacher, Blanche Brown, founder of our justly celebrated annual Wild Flower Show.
Anderson Valley High School was also once located on the Elementary School grounds. It was a wonderful old building complete with a welcoming arch, wood floors and large windows that opened out to catch the afternoon breezes off the Pacific that waft up the valley as dependably as the summer fogs cool the Mendocino Coast. The old high school was designed and built to accommodate the seasons. The new “earthquake -safe structures” are not only ugly and poorly constructed, they demand industrial strength systems of heating and air conditioning. The old high school was among the most attractive structures in The Valley, right up there with Reilly Heights. It sat at the west end of an oval lawn on which the uniformed high school band would practice its marching drills. It was destroyed “for the kids.”
When the first Anderson Valley High School went up circa 1920, Americans still cared about what things looked like, especially the Americans responsible for public education. The basic idea was the correct ancient one that an attractive building enhanced learning because it made everyone feel good, good and serious. Walk into the schools built in the 1950s and later and you wouldn't be surprised to be hit with a stun gun and thrown on a conveyor belt with sausages spilling out the other end.
The west end of the oval of lawn once occupied by the vanished beauty of Boonville’s first high school is now blasphemously occupied by a cluster of trailers containing three nice ladies who keep track of the money — the three nice ladies and a mostly unused room containing a long table around which the school board conducts its 5-0 votes. There are also lots of filing cabinets containing lots of nebulous documents beneath which Socrates himself is buried, for all anybody knows. The “district offices,” as they’re called, were the work of Superintendent Wobbling Eagle who, immediately upon being hired, arranged to get himself completely away from the sight and even the sound of “the kids.” The kids seemed to roil Superintendent Eagle's dentures, ruffle his plumped feathers. One of Eagle's priorities, apart from the overriding one of his own comfort, was an expensive “innercom” he demanded for the high school in case of student insurrection. When Superintendent Eagle was belatedly discovered to be too incompetent even for the incompetents who'd hired him, he fluttered off to two more unsuspecting school districts and was soon a one-man state edu-scandal before his administrative credential was finally confiscated.
Present-day County Superintendent of Schools Paul Tichinin approaches Superintendent Eagle in pure inability but manages mostly to elude public attention because nobody knows who he is or what he does. Which is? Nothing that the individual school districts of Mendocino County couldn’t do a lot cheaper and probably a lot better.
All that remains of the old Boonville high school is what’s called the band room, which it was once, but all that’s really left of the roots of more than a century of public education in the Anderson Valley is the Little Red School House where, as far back as 1870, on land cleared by a former slave named Jeans who homesteaded in Ham Canyon just to the west across Anderson Creek, all the Valley’s young people as could get there and weren’t needed for hard labor at home got the rudiments of an education. The Little Red School House is so widely esteemed no one ever even dared suggest it be torn down and replaced by an earthquake-proof “modular.” My children all went to kindergarten in it, emerging with fond memories of Barbara June who presided within its hallowed walls for so many years. It now houses our museum and more than a century of Valley memories, memories so fond that a local man confined most of his days to the state prison at San Quentin could reproduce the Little Red School House in its tiniest detail in drawings of it.
The medium-security, prison-like buildings that replaced the little red school houses and the arched old high school are now falling apart. Unplanned obsolescence. It’s going to take more than $15 million to make them suitable for what goes on in them, which is still widely assumed to be the instillation of the rudiments of our native tongue and the ability to perform a few simple mathematical calculations. Communities of people haven’t had full, or even partial, control of their schools for many years. Big Bro runs them now. Communities like Anderson Valley still had control of their schools when Anderson Valley designed and maintained its first high school. If we still had control today, especially in a community as talented as this one, we could bulldoze all the existing structures and build something beautiful and functional in their place for a lot less than $15.5 million. But we don’t have that option because we’re gulled into accepting the authority of distant people who get paid a lot of money to make sure that schools look and operate along the lines of modern penology.
A bond measure for Anderson Valley that needs a 55% majority to pass is not at all a sure thing. These days, you might not get 55% of Americans to agree on a guarantee of eternal life, let alone what amounts to a property tax of $60 per hundred thou assessed value of your homestead. The tax, I have heard people say, will fund schools for the children of people mostly without property, which has always been thus in this country and kinda UnAmerican to complain about, if you ask me. This is one of many grumbles about Measure A we've heard — that and versions of, “They operate like a private club with no real accountability down there.”
I'm voting Yes on A because I agree with the guy who said modern life is a race between education and catastrophe. Obviously, we're losing the race but the goal is a pretty good statement of the true situation. And you need a place to do it. I don’t want our schools to physically collapse and some kid gets hit on the head by a piece of toxic Louisiana-Pacific glue board. Solar panels are a good long-term idea for a school district that spends about $6500 a month to PG&E. The $15.5 million, we are assured, will be first dibbsies by local people — spent here on jobs for us.
And there will be an “independent citizens oversight committee and guaranteed annual audits” to ensure that the money is used only for voter approved improvements and repairs, and not used for salaries, administration or overhead.”
Well! Implicit in that assurance is that our school authority knows that lots of voters regard it with suspicion. An oversight board is also required by law, not that it can't be gotten around. I’d be amazed if an oversight committee wholly independent of the existing apparatus was appointed to watch the money, but I doubt Measure A will pass unless this required oversight committee is viewed by the wider community as absolutely unbeholden to the existing school combine, and I nominate the appointment of at least one Rossi; Gloria Ross; David Severn; Alicia Perez; Libby Favela; Don Pardini; Renee Lee; Nicola Miner; The Major; Kurt Schoeneman; Lisa Kuny. In other words, a preponderance of persons beyond the influence of the apparat, persons not easily bamboozled by edu-babble, persons likely to spend public money as prudently as their own. If Measure A is to pass, the school gang ought to announce its oversight committee soon, before everyone starts voting. About half of us now vote absentee, and the ballots go out May the 10th. A reputable oversight board announced in the next two weeks could be crucial to Measure A passing. If the usual stooges and nuzzlebums are appointed I won't be the only one regretting my Yes on A vote.