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PTA Leader on the Power of Partnership:

The following is excerpted from a speech delivered to Santa Monica Malibu Council of PTA Officers, Presidents and members, along with SMMUSD leadership and Principals, Board of Education members, and City Council members from the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica at the Santa Monica Malibu PTA Council’s Holiday Breakfast, December 9, 2008.

Today is a festive occasion, marking the beginning of a festive season, one in which we embrace our families and reconnect with our personal lives, not to mention with our families. The New Year will be upon us before we know it, filled with promise and stark realities.

On a National political stage, 2009 is a time of hope for our country with the impending leadership of Barak Obama, into whom we have entrusted our dreams and our futures. It is also a time of fear. With our economy in collapse, Americans everywhere not only worry about our futures, but our ability to continue our way of life. That worry is no more potent than in our neighborhood public schools.

For those of us who have been active in Santa Monica Malibu education issues, and as I look around, I think that’s every SINGLE person in this room, that dual feeling of hope and fear is familiar. Every one of us knows the elation we feel at passing a measure – shoring up the coffers for our public schools to whatever extent is possible. We also know that elation is always, always knocked back by something.

In February, we passed Measure R, a powerful school funding measure that goes right into the classrooms and touches every one of our children. We should have gotten a good, long run of elation from that excellent measure, but unfortunately that was knocked back almost immediately. Our schools today, at the dawn of 2009, are facing a one-two punch comes from a collapsing economy coupled with draconian public education cuts at the State level. Despite the excellent fiscal management of our Santa Monica Malibu school district and the generous local funding our schools receive, these State cuts will very soon cut right into our classrooms – right into our students across Malibu and Santa Monica.

But we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again. And I think we’ll make it through this challenging time together because of the POWER OF PARTNERSHIP. We do partnership well here in Santa Monica Malibu. We do conflict well, too. But we’re strong, and we know that can be successful, because we have built and maintained partnerships with our friends, our colleagues, and even our most outspoken adversaries.

We can disagree here in Santa Monica Malibu. We can even fight, because we know that at the core of our relationship is a partnership that can’t be broken. Looking back over the year-and-a-half that I’ve had the honor to be President, of Santa Monica Malibu’s PTA Council, I can think of a number of rip-roarin’ disagreements that members of our education community have had with each other. All legitimate disagreements – all based one fundamental truth. We simply don’t have enough money to educate our kids the way we want to – the way they deserve – the way they need to be educated to lead their own world into the decades to come.

The pot simply isn’t big enough. The national and State of California priorities to provide cutting-edge free public education are not resolute. But we, here in this room and here in our communities, have a reason to rejoice during this uncertain New Year. Our local communities and our education families have shown, over and over, their resolute commitment to excellent public schools.

Because of that additional local support, we can still claim excellence. And truly, until you get out in my world, the world of PTAs statewide, where class sizes are through the roof, where schools are closing, where music, arts and physical education aren’t even a recent memory, do you really feel how big and important the job of shoring up funding for our schools has been.

Our education community success story is still being written, with many chapters still unfinished. But the story is built on the power of the people in this room. The power of partnership.

I am also grateful to know that as we enter this New Year, filled with cuts and uncertainty, we will face our many challenges together – as partners.

Rebecca Kennedy is the President, Santa Monica Malibu Council of PTAs.

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