Recent media reports regarding parent participation at Santa Maria High School have contained errors that are causing confusion.
First, on a TV news show, a parent was quoted saying the Shared Decision Making Committee at SMHS makes decisions regarding curriculum. That error was reinforced by the reporter and the anchor. It is completely erroneous.
The Shared Decision Making Committee is one of many opportunities for parent participation. It does not spend money — that is done by School Site Council, where parents and students hold half of the membership — nor does it make decisions on curriculum — that is done by department chairs and the California Department of Education.
So what is left? Decisions about issues like tardy policies, name tags, those sorts of issues. That is what Shared Decision Making does.
It is important to note that many schools do not even have a Shared Decision Making Committee. At those schools, such decisions may simply be made by an administrator, maybe with advice from staff and parents, and maybe not.
Lost in this recent debate is that Shared Decision Making exists in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, and parents are guaranteed voting, not advisory, positions on these committees, because the teachers of Santa Maria negotiated it into their contract.
Twenty years ago, when this language was bargained, teachers fought so parents would be heard. Today, teachers know better than anyone that involved, informed parents are crucial to the success of our children.
Administrators at SMHS have said they don’t want the committee to continue as a voting body. They say they would like it to be an advisory group. This would weaken the voices of teachers and parents.
Perhaps the saddest part of this episode is that some are using it to drive a wedge between the two most important forces in students’ lives — parents and teachers — and threatening to invoke California’s deeply flawed parent-trigger law.
The resulting charter conversion at SMHS would wrest local control from our duly elected school board, and allow a yet-unnamed charter operator to release every employee at Santa Maria High School — every administrator, custodian, counselor and teacher.
A charter would not have to accept every student who now attends SMHS and, since no student can be required to attend a charter in California, an untold number of students could demand to attend the district’s other schools, and the district would be compelled to accept them. This, and the resulting massive staff layoffs, would be chaos for the district and community.
Does this seem like a reasonable response to some parents’ frustrations over access to one school committee? I understand anyone’s demand to have a better chair at the table. I do not understand how they can end that by threatening to burn the house we share to the ground.