MERCED — In telling nearly 300 business, civic and school leaders about Merced County's educational progress and its future over lunch Wednesday afternoon, Steve Gomes borrowed a life lesson from retired professional hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
Gomes, county superintendent of schools, said Gretzky was not focused on where the hockey puck was, but where it should be. In his Annual Education Report, the county's educational leader challenged his audience to look five or 10 years down the road in equipping students for life and career demands facing them.
"Student academic achievement continues to improve despite challenges," Gomes said. "The funding picture is improving. Let's team up to go where the puck is."
The 20-page annual education report prepared by public information officer Nathan Quevedo outlines area educational history, student demographics, academic performance statistics, scholarships, cooperative programs, school budgets, challenges in education, the MCOE Foundation and county schools' departments and programs.
State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, told the audience educational news has gotten better in the state of California, the economy is improving and voters' passage of Proposition 30 last November changed the equation of school funding.
Cannella said Gov. Jerry Brown is "shaking things up a bit" in education. One of Brown's philosophies is that it is not fair to pay schools in Merced County the same as in Carmel.
"These are very positive movements," Cannella said. "It seems the worst times are behind us. The governor's proposal will give more local control."
For example, Cannella said, the Merced City School District is getting $6,231 per pupil from the state; this will go up to $10,614 for each student, but it will take a few years.
The state senator said there's a chance the state Legislature will spoil Brown's good intentions. Gomes, however, called Cannella a "real friend of education" and said he had every confidence state legislators' efforts won't be detrimental to education.
Gomes said all 20 school districts in Merced County are fiscally sound now, but it has taken considerable effort from administrators and trustees.
He cited Stanford University research that shows for every dollar spent in school, there is a 1½-times multiplier in the economy.
More than $650 million is spent annually by the state and federal governments on kindergarten through high school education, Gomes said, with salaries and benefits accounting for about half that total.
That means about a billion dollars for the local economy, Gomes said.
More than 56,000 students attend the 114 schools in the county, with 9,000 teachers and support staff members educating them.
There are 4,000 graduates every year, with statistics showing a high school graduate makes $300,000 more in his lifetime than a nongraduate and a college graduate makes $1 million more than a nongraduate.
Data show 53 percent of Merced high school graduates enroll in college, the sixth-highest rate in the state. But U.S. Census figures indicate only 19 percent of the county's residents have a college degree.
The difference is attributed to local students who don't finish college and college graduates who go away to get their degree but don't come back, Gomes said. Businesses seeking a college-educated work force then look elsewhere.
"The challenge locally is how to bring those businesses here," Gomes said. "It's a circular problem. Students say they would love to stay here but can't find a job. I think they will come back."
Gomes said instructional programs in Merced County have changed dramatically in the last five to seven years, but the challenge remains to close the achievement gap.
He said there have been dramatic improvements among students learning English and those fluent in two languages.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.
ANNUAL EDUCATION REPORT'S MAIN POINTS
Student academic achievement continues to improve despite challenges, and the funding picture is improving.
With 56,165 students enrolled in county schools, that means about a billion dollars for the local economy.
All 20 school districts in Merced County are fiscally sound now, but this has taken considerable effort from administrators and trustees.
Instructional programs in Merced County have changed dramatically in the past five to seven years. The challenge remains to close the achievement gap. There have been dramatic improvements among students learning English and those fluent in two languages.