To truly understand what’s wrong with Piedmont Unified School District, in the hills a few miles from San Francisco Bay, you have to pull up from a municipality so wealthy that it was dubbed the City of Millionaires in the Roaring ‘20s, up high enough to notice that after the district border ambles along Park Boulevard and then moves counterclockwise to encompass the mansions and art centers and swimming pools, it finally returns to exactly where it started. Piedmont school district looks like an island. Specifically, an island of rich white people sitting above, and entirely surrounded by, the much larger district of mostly not-rich and not-white people in Oakland, California.
Then you need to look at the long history of how much money Piedmont raises every year in local property taxes: thousands more for each student than is raised in Oakland. See how those numbers jump back up in the Berkeley school district to the north, home of the famous university, and drop back down in San Leandro, a racially diverse community to the south. Put the numbers and the maps together and you realize that Piedmont isn’t an island after all. It’s a fortress. A place where the wealthy and powerful huddle to keep their resources for themselves.
Piedmont’s negative image is in Reading, Pennsylvania, a worn-down city of nonmillionaires that emerged from the last decennial census with the single highest poverty rate in America. The wealthier, whiter areas surrounding Reading are split into seven districts instead of one, but the effect is the same: Reading students, who are 93 percent nonwhite and 31 percent below the federal poverty line, get $5,000 less per year than those in neighboring Schuylkill, which is 86 percent white and 5 percent poor. Reading isn’t an island, either. It’s a prison. A place designed to keep the poor in their place.
Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts.