Page 20


Relax, and take a break for lunch or dinner, and watch the river go by. The drinks are ample, and the cheesecake is our own. We have sandwiches to seafood, from 11:30 until 11:30 every day of the week ; open till midnight in the Metro Center, San Antonio, Texas. the task of assuring continuity in their offerings from year to year. Faculty slackards have meanwhile been free to work unconstrained by lesson plans, according to a former teacher who remembers her Somerset experience with dismay. Parents contend that in Somerset’s schools, education takes a back seat to the cultivation of personal power. Charles Pieper adds that “the kids know it. They don’t feel valued.” An incident in a civics class soon after his arrival in the fall of 1976 suggests the measure of their demoralization. Ordinarily indifferent to the workings of government, students became keenly attentive when Pieper lectured on shenanigans in Austin. One spoke animatedly of the resemblance he saw between Pieper’s description of governmental goings-on in Austin and of the school district’s cozy dealings with local businessmen. Added another: “Nobody can see the books here either.” No help from Austin Such is the jaundiced spirit in Somerset’s schools, and the disheartening reality is that change probably won’t come unless the voters start demanding it in the reslated school board election on June 24. The reform faction has appealed for corrective action to the Texas Education Agency, which contributes twothirds of Somerset ISD’s annual budget, and therefore might be expected to keep a watchful eye on the way Bill James runs his schools. But TEA’s response to the complaints of the reformers has been meager. The district has been under TEA “advisement” of accreditation problems in several recent years, and a TEA audit team did show up unexpectedly in March. But such inspections are always limited in scope, and this one was confined to a check of average daily attenstate’s funding formulaand some financial accounts. Though the auditors found that a few ADA records were missing, their failure to explore the school district’s other operations all but ensures that they will, as usual, note nothing much wrong in Somerset. Yet most everyone in state government who cared to comment on the Somerset story conceded that similar conditions probably prevail in a large’ ; proportion of rural school districts of comparable size. But, say these officials, state efforts to curb local mismanagement come a cropper because resources are limited \(TEA has less than one emment authority is inadequate. \(See Jane The TEA’s impotence is the product of a fundamental flaw in the theory of school governance that has shaped the Texas school system. Since 1876, the reigning notion has been that a laissez faire posture by state government would foster genuine community control. But the idea has miscarried in practice: instead of promoting decentralization of decision-making, the laissez faire ideology all too often has encouraged concentration of powerand Somerset ISD is a case in point. In Somerset, of course, this concentrated control belongs to Bill James, but to hear him tell it, he’s just a “hired hand,” who can’t understand the “move that’s on to destroy me as an individual.” His campus, he says, is a home of “love and goodwill” for the “precious” students who come under his charge, and it is so regarded by right-thinking observers unaffected by the “jealousy” that motivates his critics. James terms his conduct in office “ultraprofessional”; he quotes with approval the constituent who told him once that his aim as superintendent should be to “make citizens of children first and let others make specialists out of them later.” The irony, James’s critics say, is that the superintendent’s wayward practices provide Somerset students with a lesson in misgovernment and deny them the schooling they deserve. The shame of it, they add, is that the state lets the same thing happen in Somersets all over Texas. Observer assistant editor Eric Hartman is a lawyer and lives in Austin. Contributing writer Tim Mahoney is a senior at the University of Texas. “A system running for its own sake loses touch with its ostensible function and becomes isolated from the environment; its chief function is to protect, reward, and incestuously recruit its own personnel; its chief business is paperwork, public relations, and the maintenance of routine production.” Paul Goodman, in Dissent, 1964 22 MAY 12, 1978 z 0.700400.4.0100t ,O,