Tonight’s regularly-scheduled Board meeting was a particularly contentious one, thanks to the current state of our contract negotiations and the ongoing uncertainty at schools the state has now designated as persistently underperforming. We must have had at least 70 speakers for public comment, even after President Kim limited the amount of time each group had to speak.
First up: a group of parents and community members who wanted to express their bewilderment and outrage at the state’s decision to name their schools–George Washington Carver Elementary and Willie Brown Elementary–to the persistently underperforming list and subjecting these schools to sanctions. The families are worried that the district will opt to close these schools, and distrustful of assurances that there is no plan to close them (even though the state and the Federal government say that closure is one of the options we must consider). Superintendent Garcia tonight reiterated those assurances, but did suggest that there is a future possibility that we might temporarily close Willie Brown in order to build a better facility.
In general, though, the state has put us in a terrible position. First of all, it is absurd that California’s highest-scoring urban district, whose enrollment represents about 1 percent of the state’s public school students, has 10 schools on the persistently underperforming list. It turns out that having 10 schools on the “bad list” is really significant for your district’s reform plans, because it means you are limited to using any one strategy on 50 percent or fewer of your schools. In a district like ours, where we have real problems with most of the prescribed strategies (none of which are supported by research!), it means that we will have to impose more radical changes than we would like on more schools than we would choose.
Second, and most important to the Carver and Willie Brown communities, the state has been less than forthcoming with information about what options districts have available to them — which means that the school district has not been very forthcoming either, for fear of misleading school staff and families and then having to change directions. Hopefully we will be able to address the lack of information at a community meeting scheduled for April 22, when district staff will meet with community members at Carver (I don’t have further information about the meeting but will post it as soon as I do).
And then: After 10 or so angry speakers from Carver and Willie Brown, we went on to 30 or more angry speakers from UESF, which held a rally before the meeting as a reaction to the Superintendent’s decision to declare impasse in our labor negotiations (the title of this post comes from questions posed by UESF members during public comment). What happens now is dependent on a number of factors, but most likely the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) will clear the way for a neutral mediator to be appointed. That mediator has the power to compel both parties back to the negotiating table until such a time as he or she determines further talks are pointless. Then, if necessary, the district and UESF will move to fact-finding, where another neutral party determines which facts are material to determining a resolution of the dispute. Once the fact-finder’s report is complete, the district will either impose a “last, best offer,” or the union will strike, or both. Fasten your seat belts, folks — it is anyone’s guess as to how this will come out.
Before I move on from the UESF public comment, however, I must give a shout out to Eric Hendy, a teacher at SF Community. Mr. Hendy asked, in all seriousness, “When is the meeting?” When are we going to get political leaders, educational leaders, families and other powerful people together to put together a plan for a better education system in California? I don’t know, Mr. Hendy — but as soon as I find out when and where, I’ll let you all know. This–the process we are now going through–is just insane.
Finally, we moved on to the central item of business for the evening: the charter petition for Gateway Charter Middle School. This was one of the more difficult votes I have been asked to take on the Board, because this charter petition couldn’t have hit at a worse time. Gateway High School has a tremendous track record, and my recent visit to the high school confirmed for me that the vision described in their middle school petition represents something we don’t currently offer in this district. And yet, the approval of another middle school will almost certainly hurt enrollment in our traditional middle schools — how much remains to be seen. In the words of Commissioner Fewer, “our middle schools are weak.” I agree. I also agree with Commissioner Fewer that we are working on this segment of our program, but I disagree with her that our rising elementary school students have the time to wait. At least some of them will really benefit from the option the Gateway middle school petition offers, and Gateway has a proven track record. After a planning year in 2010-11, they will no doubt be ready to go in Fall 2011 — something I wish I had the confidence to say about our own middle school reforms. And so, with some regret, I voted to approve the charter (the final vote was 4-3, with Commissioners Maufas, Mendoza and Kim joining me to approve the charter; Commissioners Fewer, Yee and Wynns voted against).