Short school year puts US at disadvantage

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Touting the notebook while realizing once I Want Revenge was scratched, we wound up with the best Kentucky Derby in decades. Now if we can only scratch I Want Revenge from our political system, think how good that would be. ... Among other items which could be a lot better is our state school system, which makes the following Bart O’Brien idea all the more topical. O’Brien, who is pulling the plug on his lengthy, and stellar, educational career, was featured player at a Meddlers gathering. It was somewhat shocking to hear from him that on any given day, half the students at Del Oro High will spend some time in a portable classroom. As bad as things are financially, and as much money that governmental departments squander, such information is extremely difficult to digest. In closing his entertaining and informative remembrance, he was asked if he had the power, what would be the first thing he’d change in the state educational field. Cynics were waiting for the stock answer of raising teachers’ salaries and the like, but he surprised us. “First thing I’d do is lengthen the school year,” he said. He was serious. “The rest of the world has school years of 200-210 days, but ours has remained at 180 days since it was expanded by five days in 1984,” he said, adding that state teachers unions had to be placated with added benefits before they agreed to the schedule change. O’Brien explained that modern challenges, especially those of the technological type, require much more formal education than currently offered. He’s correct, and although assuredly deserves the time off he’s about to get, it would be nice if he kept his hand in and began pushing that idea in the world he so well knows. ... Another proposal: Mayor Mike Holmes also has a couple of ideas he’s starting to act upon, including one which calls for placing a good portion of the Downtown business section into a historical zone. “Old Town is already a historical district, and by doing likewise with Downtown, we probably could appeal more to tourists, especially when Streetscape links the two,” he said. Holmes is starting off with seven specific buildings for inclusion, including the Carnegie Library, Odd Fellows Building, St. Luke’s Church and the old City Hall. That latter building is a 1937 WPA art deco job, but Holmes says it fits the historical theme. “We have a small group working on it right now, preparing the paperwork for the state. After that, it goes on to the feds,” he said. “The whole idea is to come up with another way to get Auburn on the map and to promote tourism.”  Holmes has some other projects in the embryo stages, including another small group devoted to long-rang economic development. “We’re looking at where Auburn, and our whole sphere of influence, needs to be in 10 years,” he explained, adding that this proposal is something he came up with while digesting information from January’s Economic Summit. He declined to identify members of that volunteer group at this stage, but says the economic gaggle will meet this week. ... Not so street smart: Our deep gratitude goes out to Caltrans, which cobbled together yet another open house in attempting to explain its rather high-handed tactics involving the setting up of the I-80 detour. This one was scheduled for Nevada County residents, who are suffering from the additional traffic even more than their Placer County counterparts. Complaints had become so vociferous that the Nevada County Supervisors recently hauled in some Caltrans reps for a public dressing down, which probably led to the April 29 open house at the Nevada City City Hall. However, proving that leaning on shovels doesn’t have to be confined only to road work, Caltrans managed to screw up the mailing process so that — at least for South Nevada County residents — those missives didn’t arrive until after the meeting. Truth is, the detour was announced and run without any input from the affected county and city governments, and in this day of really mad taxpayers, was not the smartest thing to do. Oh well, there’s nothing we can do about it, at least not until the next time Caltrans has some bond measure on the ballot. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at