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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unoccupied Carlsbad?

For carlsbadistan.com

On Saturday I had an attack of déjà vu in downtown San Diego that made we wonder if Occupy Wall Street could ever come to our sleepy little Village By The Sea. Let me explain.

My wife and I had to wade through an Occupy San Diego encampment in front of the Civic Theatre, where we were headed to see the revival of the 60’s rock musical, HAIR. Karen was more excited about seeing the show than I was. Although we both have vivid memories of those psychedelic days, hers are more pleasant than mine.

She found her inner flower child in the late 60’s, leaving a stuck-in-the-50’s husband who preferred the kind of obedient wife we see today only in the popular retro TV series Mad Men. I was a high school English teacher affecting a Bono look, no not that Bono, the Sonny one who harmonized with Cher. Sporting fashionably long hair and a slightly droopy mustache, I wore paisley ties, a macramé belt and waffle-stomper boots. But my polyester sport coats gave me away. The only risk I took in the 60’s was standing too close to an open flame in that attire. I was a hippie wannabe.


The hundred or so protesters camping out in front of the theatre appeared to be about the same ages as the actors on stage portraying pot-smoking, advocates of peace and love. But there were some important differences. There were no faint aromas of marijuana, petula oil, or incense wafting through the air. No angry chanting or taunting of the four good-natured police officers keeping a friendly eye on the group.

We were approached by a young woman who asked if we had any questions. I asked her if she was a student. She had been, she explained. But after completing two years of college, planning to be a teacher, she had run up $18,000 in student loans. She dropped out because she feared she’d be taking on more debt than a teacher’s salary would allow her to ever pay off. She’s now making what she called “good money” as a waitress, earning a whopping $2,000 a month. Her top priority in the protest was to make college more affordable…like free, as it is in several other countries.

Her sad story helped me see a link between the reason she was there and what’s currently happening with funding for Carlsbad schools. Announcing a potential budget shortfall of $11 million next year, the district is asking the public for feedback on how to cut costs by responding to a survey on the district’s web site.
The irony here is that, according to SANDAG figures, the city has the largest collection of wealthy households in North County, with nearly one in four enjoying incomes exceeding $100,000. But, revealing the wealth gap, more than half have incomes below $60,000.

While its schools face severe cuts, Carlsbad enjoys a comfortable budget reserve exceeding $50 million and provides annual million dollar bailouts of its failing golf course. The city council is currently looking for ways to save more money by outsourcing the jobs of the city’s lowest paid workers.

In his state of the city address, Mayor Hall declared that Carlsbad’s business climate “is about to explode” because of the city’s special efforts to become business friendly.

Will the city consider a bailout of its public schools, or does that not qualify as business friendly? I’m not holding my breath. It appears Carlsbadistan is not ready to be occupied.

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