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Use arena money to bolster school funding

Like the rest of Sacramento, I have followed the twists and turns of the city’s downtown arena saga with great interest. The Kings have been a valuable and generous partner of the Sacramento City Unified School District. I have attended many of their terrific “Get Fit” events at our schools and come away impressed by the team’s sincere commitment to fighting childhood obesity. Annually, they honor our teachers with touching half-time tributes. And on numerous occasions players and staff have addressed our students to extol the value of an education.

Losing the Kings would be a blow to our community.

But with adversity comes opportunities.

What if the $185 million to $245 million to be raised for the new downtown arena through the lease of city parking operations was used to provide a sorely needed financial infusion to area schools?

Due to declining state revenues, rising costs, a loss of federal funds and failure by our state to make public education a priority, our district faces a $28 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year and the specter of an additional $15 million mid-year trigger cut. This is on top of more than $100 million in cuts to our district in the prior three years. To address this deficit, our Board of Education made painful decisions earlier this year to eliminate counselors, librarians, sports and home-to-school bus transportation; close one school; and reduce custodians, plant managers and assistant principals.

With just a fourth of the money generated by parking leases, we could bring back all of these critical services so vital to our schools and our children. Given such dire circumstances, the time is now for Sacramento to step up and help our schools. We can no longer cede this responsibility to our state.

In Mayor Kevin Johnson’s State of the City address, he discussed arena fund-raising saying, “A building like this isn’t built overnight. It gets built brick by brick.”

Given his passion for education and his ties to schools, Mayor Johnson knows that “brick by brick” is also how a child’s education is built.

One concept at a time. One lesson at a time. One student at a time.

Brick by brick.

From the day a young boy or girl enters a Sacramento City Unified School District classroom until the happy moment they head off for college, our dedicated teachers, staff and families are carefully building their futures.

SCUSD’s dedication to creating a well-educated populace in Sacramento has a tremendous potential payoff: The best foundation for a great city is quality schools. Problems that hinder Sacramento’s progress – high employment and high poverty – can best be addressed and overcome through investment in K-12 education. Great schools produce lifelong learners who in turn become talented workers. They become creative thinkers that up the game with fresh ideas and innovative solutions. It’s no coincidence that Apple and Google and Facebook are headquartered in the Bay Area. Those dynamic companies, suppliers of high-wage jobs, are located within commuting distance to California’s best schools. Superior schools build a superior workforce.

Brick by brick.

As a devoted sports fan, I understand the pride an NBA team brings to a citizenry. Can it compare with the pride of a parent on the day their child graduates from college? I have met many parents in our district that have never been to a Kings game and will likely never go. But they have been to back-to-school nights and PTA meetings and middle school basketball tournaments. They have priorities, and their children come first.

Shouldn’t our children always come first?

Arena advocates have said that a new downtown venue would create 4,100 jobs, which would certainly help our city’s ailing economy. I understand the argument that something trumps nothing. To an out-of-work electrician or a young person desperately seeking a paycheck, any job is better than unemployment. That’s a given.

For the long-term health of the city, however, Sacramento needs a diversified employment base that also supports such high-wage sectors as alternative energy, green technology and medical research. For all these jobs, we need to be investing in our schools and building tomorrow’s civic leaders. Many will say that financing schools is not the responsibility of the city. Fair enough. But I would argue that with world-class schools, Sacramento would have an easier time attracting businesses to locate here – which would improve the bottom line for all of us in the city.

After all, buildings do not make a great city. Great people make a great city. History is replete with examples of extraordinary cities – extraordinary civilizations – made so by the kind of strong civic engagement that binds neighborhoods together and attracts newcomers. At the foundation of those places were – and are – great schools.

Let’s put the horse before the cart. Let’s put substance before form. Let’s become a great city and then build a great arena. Let’s not build the future on pillars of sand.

Let’s build it brick by brick.

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