Bill Vernon headshot
CEO’s note
by Vernon M. Billy
This was their finest hour

tudents of history are familiar with Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech. Churchill had just assumed the role of prime minister at a time of great peril for the United Kingdom. The Nazis had completed their invasion of France — and much of Europe — in stunning fashion and were now turning their attention to Britain. With spirits low and war imminent, Churchill addressed the House of Commons in June of 1940.

In an attempt to boost the morale of Parliament and the nation, Churchill reflected on the difficult victory achieved by Allied forces in World War I. “During that war we repeatedly asked ourselves the question, ‘How are we going to win?’ and no one was able ever to answer it with much precision, until at the end, quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, our terrible foe collapsed before us.”

In conclusion, Churchill implored his nation to meet the great challenge before saying, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

Eighty years after Churchill’s famous speech, the world faces another seemingly implacable enemy. The threat confronting the United States and the world is nowhere near as ominous as that presented by the Axis powers in World War II. It has, however, shaken the foundations of society, tested our resilience and made us question our ability to respond to mortal threats. As a country, we’ve had to adapt in ways we never imagined and our K-12 schools have been on the front lines, making difficult decisions to meet the needs of students and families.

As governance teams, you have faced unexpected challenges with insufficient resources and endured intense scrutiny. In addition to your roles as education leaders and policymakers, you have been asked to become specialists in public health, food distribution, technology and epidemiology at a time when guidance is incomplete and circumstances are rapidly changing. It hasn’t been perfect, and it certainly hasn’t been easy, but you have found a way more often than not. And 6 million California students are better off because of your efforts.

Although your efforts may sometimes go unrecognized, they are not unappreciated by CSBA. My great hope is that when we emerge from this once-a-century crisis, that future generations will look back at the extraordinary work and leadership of governing boards and say, “This was their finest hour.”

Although your efforts may sometimes go unrecognized, they are not unappreciated by CSBA. I am deeply grateful for the obstacles that school boards overcome to provide students with an education. We have made sure that legislators and policymakers here in Sacramento know the extraordinary lengths you’ve gone to in order to continue that service during this pandemic and what you require for the eventual return to on-campus instruction statewide. We have also evolved our operations at CSBA to increase our advocacy locally and in the Capitol, to keep you abreast of developments, and to support you during this crisis and its aftermath. My great hope is that when we emerge from this once-a-century crisis, that future generations will look back at the extraordinary work and leadership of governing boards and say, “this was their finest hour.”

As you move through the second half of this school year, I hope you use CSBA’s resources to help guide your planning and support CSBA’s public and legislative advocacy on behalf of public schools. We know that districts and county offices of education have been running food distribution operations, purchasing cell phone towers, negotiating with telecoms, reconfiguring facilities and building health clinics on the fly. This has taken a tremendous toll and we are fighting to make sure your efforts are respected and rewarded with the resources you need.

CSBA was among the first to sound the alarm about the fiscal impact the COVID-19 response would have on schools and was instrumental in obtaining flat funding for schools in the 2020–21 state budget, which, while still very painful, was miles ahead of the Governor’s May Revision and other early proposals. We continue this advocacy in the wake of the November 2020 Legislative Analyst’s Office report, which estimated the state will collect an extra $26 billion in tax revenue. This unanticipated revenue can and should help the state meet its obligations to schools — responsibilities that are even more urgent in light of our current crisis. CSBA continues to advocate for additional resources to help LEAs pay for preventive measures, such as personal protective equipment, deep cleaning, and testing and to provide broadband access and internet-enabled devices for all students. It’s critical that the state eliminate planned budget deferrals and continue supplemental funding to combat learning loss, improve distance learning, provide equitable access to technology, allow for the eventual reopening of schools, and help address the pandemic’s negative impact on student performance, socialization and mental health.

In 2021, we will continue to advocate for the resources that schools need to reopen in a way that is safe, healthy, and acceptable to local stakeholders and to resist efforts to place the blame on governing boards for school closures. We will push the state to prioritize the vaccination of school staff, allocate funding for regular testing of personnel and symptomatic students and provide the logistical support for the testing, tracing and deep cleaning needed to resume school in a responsible manner.

We will also renew the fight for Full and Fair FundingSM, which has only become more critical now that COVID-19 and its impact places additional pressures on LEAs. We know that LEAs will be creative in compensating for the disruption to student learning caused by the pandemic, but you need more resources to do all you can for students, especially since existing funding was woefully inadequate, even before the pandemic hit. More than 40 years of underinvestment in public education has deprived our students and schools of critical resources and kept them from realizing their potential. It’s high time our state’s leaders rectify this injustice and move California into the top 10 states nationally in per-pupil funding. If not, we will continue to try and put this issue before the voters to secure the funding our students deserve.

Throughout 2021, we will continue to fight for schools so that our legislators offer not only platitudes but also concrete support for governance teams, administrators and educators who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis and are essential to our recovery. The scope of our current challenges exceeds the capacity of local school districts and county offices of education to handle alone. We know that our members rely on CSBA for information, guidance and support. In turn, we will continue to be your champion in Sacramento and the bridge between your local communities and the state. We are honored to perform this service, especially during this critical moment for public schools, so that future generations may look back on this as our finest hour.

Vernon M. Billy initials signature