Category Archives: politics

2014 Voting Guide

Keep thinking of things I left out! Updating to add guidance on Supervisor races, Oakland Mayor (for the possible Oaklanders reading this or those who have friends/family/roots in that city), and a few more local propositions.
Folks — here are my endorsements.  Whether or not you agree, please vote. Turnout in San Francisco is expected to be very low — about 40 percent is what I’m hearing. As of late this week, only 58,000 absentee ballots had been returned.  (Historical voter turnout figures are here).  If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!

Closest to my heart, and I suspect to the hearts of readers of this blog, are the three seats up for the Board of Education. There is a very strong field of candidates this year, but these candidates rise to the top:

Norton and Murphy Mark Murphy: Mark is a dear friend of mine, but that’s not why I’m promoting his candidacy. I first met Mark in 2006, when as an elementary school parent I was struggling with some issues at our school. Mark is not a parent, but he is married to a 5th grade teacher who taught my children. Since he is a communications expert at his day job Mark attended a parent meeting and helped a group of us work through a difficult situation. He’s thoughtful, a great listener, and very interested and engaged in the issues that face our district. I was thrilled when he agreed to let me appoint him to the Public Education Enrichment Fund (Prop H) Advisory Committee, and was not at all surprised when he was elected co-Chair of the committee last year.  I also deeply respect and support Mark’s commitment to the particular issues of LGBT youth — back in 2010 he worked closely with Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer to pass and implement legislation increasing mental health and other supports for this particular group after we saw shocking data about the increased risks faced by this population in our schools. He will be an amazing, collegial and smart addition to the Board of Education and I support him unconditionally.

Norton and waltonShamann Walton:  I am so excited at the prospect of serving on the Board with Shamann. I got to know him during the 2012 campaign, when he ran for school board the first time. Though he was not ultimately successful, I was very impressed with his low-key, easygoing style and deep engagement in making sure the schools are doing their best with all kids, particularly around job readiness and vocational skills. He’s got long experience working in government and the social service sector in San Francisco, and he is another candidate who will absolutely hit the ground running come January, when the new term begins.

I’m also endorsing my colleague Emily Murase for re-election. Emily has been a hard-worker and a solid vote on the Board. Last year we elected her into leadership as Vice President, and she’s done a good job in the often thankless role of making sure the work of the Board moves forward. As a Board member, she’s made particular effort to address bullying in schools, and is a strong advocate for more world language programs.

Propositions: I won’t bore you with all of my positions on local propositions, but I feel particularly strongly and well-informed about these three:

YES on Props A and B , which would work on improving transit in different ways. Prop A is a bond championed by the Mayor, Prop B was placed on the ballot by a majority of Supervisors to tie Muni’s operational funding to population growth. A has broad support, B is opposed by some as a ‘money grab’ by Muni. To me, tying Muni’s funding to growing population is a good thing. SF is pretty crowded these days and only getting more so. Investing in Muni to increase service seems crucial, and we haven’t seen much commitment to that coming out of City Hall.

YES on Prop C, the “Children and Families First” initiative. Prop. C is a charter amendment that changes the way the City administers the Children’s Fund and the Public Education Enrichment Fund. Both of these funds represent crucial support to kids, families and schools in San Francisco. Prop C will modestly increase revenues to these funds, and improve the administration of them. There is almost no opposition to this charter amendment.

YES on Prop E, the soda tax.  Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows clearly how strongly I feel about this one. It’s controversial, but a critical public health initiative. There is no longer any doubt about the fact that a tax on sugary beverages will reduce consumption, and that’s why Coca Cola and Pepsi have spent almost $10 million (that we know of — the full tally won’t be available until after the election) to defeat this initiative and a similar one in Berkeley.  Do you really think they care about supporting your right to choose to drink diabetes in a bottle without paying a tax to do so? This is not a philosophical argument, friends — it’s about soda company profits vs. the health of our communities. The SF Chronicle editorial supporting Prop. E is the clearest, most cogent and factual argument I’ve seen. If you’re on the fence about Prop. E, read it.

YES on Prop F is a no-brainer. The plan for redeveloping Pier 70 is great, and has been constructed painstakingly with lots of community input. When this plan is completed, we will have a stunning new development on the waterfront with parks, space for local artists and makers, and housing.
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YES on Prop I, the Beach Chalet Soccer Complex. As Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg likes to say, this is the most vetted soccer field in America. For years, the Recreation and Parks Department has been trying to upgrade the soccer fields at the Beach Chalet, out near Ocean Beach. Many months out of the year those fields must be closed due to poor drainage, and players cite ruts and gopher holes as constant hazards. The recent dustup at Mission Playground highlighted the overarching fact that there is huge and growing demand for soccer playfields in San Francisco, and we need more fields to meet the demand. The Beach Chalet project will address this. Let SF kids play and vote YES on Prop I. Correspondingly also vote NO on Prop H, which landed on the ballot as a last-ditch signature gathering effort to stop the project in its tracks. (Let me just be up front and say I am not going to post comments that contain screeds on artificial turf. I acknowledge there is controversy over whether artificial turf poses hazards to players but I have found the debate to be remarkably short on facts. This analysis of the existing scientific data is the most even-handed, up-to-date and factual article I have found on this issue, written by Andrew Maynard, the Director of the University of Michigan’s Center on Risk Science — someone with no dog in this fight.)

Assembly District 17: David Chiu is the clear choice. His collaborative style is what we need in Sacramento. David is a good listener and someone who has demonstrated his ability to reach across ideological differences and find consensus.

City College: Dr. Amy Bacharach for the two year seat. Rodrigo Santos for the four year seat.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction: No recommendation. I realize that doesn’t provide much guidance, but the fact is, I’m disappointed in both candidates. Tom Torlakson is well-meaning, and I supported him in 2010, but he has been completely ineffective in this role. I’m embarrassed for him that he is touting the Local Control Funding Formula as one of his achievements– the LCFF was entirely Governor Brown’s baby.  Similarly, Marshall Tuck is appealing in some ways but he has been bankrolled and pushed hard by the charter school lobby. I am so tired of having my hands tied when it comes to charter schools — on everything from granting petitions to facilities. Not all charter schools are bad — I’ve voted for several new petitions since coming on to the Board, including Gateway MS and KIPP High School–but the Education Code with respect to charter schools really needs an overhaul.

So, it is galling to me that the my choices for this office amount to a tired political hack or a candidate whose chief experience in education comes from his time as a charter school executive. I’ve voted, but I’m purposefully not sharing who I voted for because I really have no idea if I made the right choice.

Why I support the sugary beverage tax

Last week, you might have read that Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced a proposal to tax sugary beverages (defined as drinks with 25 or more calories that have added sugary sweeteners and are less than 50 percent fruit or vegetable juice) sold in the City and County of San Francisco.  If approved by a majority of Supervisors, the proposal will go to the voters in November 2014, and since it is a new tax, it will require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Supervisors Eric Mar, Malia Cohen and John Avalos have also been working on similar measures, and they are working with Supervisor Wiener to craft a joint proposal that all of their colleagues will support. Because the stakes are so high — both in terms of the support needed and because of the public health crisis represented by over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages –I’ve decided it’s important to pledge my personal support for their efforts NOW, even before a final proposal is approved for the ballot. Two other California cities, Richmond and El Monte, have tried and failed to enact similar measures — amid an onslaught of money spent by beverage manufacturers to defeat them. And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt at an outright ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces has been blocked in the courts.

Consider these facts:

  • Since 1980, obesity among children and adolescents has tripled nationwide. As recently as 2010, nearly a third of children and adolescents in San Francisco were obese or overweight.
  • Sugary foods are bad enough for health, but sugary beverages are even more extreme in their health effects when consumed regularly. These beverages, though they can contain hundreds of calories in a serving, do not signal “fullness” to the brain. Studies show that they flood the liver with high amounts of sugar in a short amount of time. This “sugar rush” over time leads to fat deposits that cause diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other serious health problems.
  • Sugary beverages represent, on average, 11 percent of daily calories consumed by children in the U.S. A recent survey found that California teenagers are consuming more sugary beverages
  • One in three children born today will develop Type II diabetes in their lifetime if sugary beverage consumption does not decline.
  • Diseases connected to sugary beverages disproportionately impact minorities and low-income communities. According to Head Start of San Francisco, 18 percent of 3-4 year olds enrolled in its programs are obese.
  • UCSF researcher Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo has calculated that even a one-cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could cut sugary beverage consumption by 10 percent — with corresponding reductions in future cases of diabetes , obesity and heart disease, as well as the cost of treating them. Other research has established that spending $1 on nutrition education saves $10 in future health care costs.

I have two teens, and I know how hard it is to control teenage eating habits once they have a little independence and spending money. Eating habits and tastes are formed at a young age, and I’m forever grateful to my mother for setting a nutrition-conscious example I’ve been able to (more or less) follow with my own children. I also know, as a school board member, how important it is for kids to have enough healthy food so that they can learn at their highest potential.

Supervisor Scott Wiener’s proposal for the November 2014 ballot would create a two-penny per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, with the proceeds dedicated to nutrition, physical activity, and health programs in public schools, parks, and elsewhere.

I fully support the tax as an effective strategy to drive down consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, increase access to and expand physical activity programs, and expand health nutrition education.  Much like cigarette taxes did to drive down rates of smoking and increase public awareness of the dire health consequences, a soda tax will help reduce consumption and increase the growing public awareness of the negative health impact sodas have on growing and adult bodies.

We will be reading and hearing much more about the sugary beverage tax in the months to come. I hope I can count on other parents and child advocates to support this measure — it’s time for San Francisco to take a strong stand and create disincentives to purchasing and consuming a product that represents a serious health challenge for our children.

P.S. I know it’s been quite a while since I blogged — working full time has really cut into the amount of time I have available late at night to write and post updates from the Board meetings. After tomorrow’s Board meeting I will have some breathing room to catch up. As always, there has been a lot happening! 

Dec 11 meeting recap: Has it really been a month?

UPDATE: The Board will take up the Revolution Foods meal service contract at a Special Meeting on Monday evening, Dec. 17. The Special Meeting will start directly following the previously-agendized Buildings & Grounds Committee, scheduled for 6 p.m.  that evening. 

As I noted in last month’s meeting recap, SFUSD routinely cancels the second Board meeting in November and the second Board meeting in December. So we haven’t had a meeting in a month, and it’ll be another month before we meet again. So you’d think there would be a lot of business on the agenda, right? Not really, as it turned out. It was Norman’s last regular meeting before he is  sworn in as Supervisor for District 7 — Commissioners expressed appreciation for his work on the Board and all of us feel sure we will be seeing lots of Norman after he moves to City Hall.  At the end of the meeting, staff, Commissioners and one Commissioner-elect posed for a family photo:

Normans last meeting cropped

Unfortunately, all the news that was going to happen at last night’s meeting got canceled, so while I have every expectation that the proposed school meal contract with Revolution Foods will pass the Board, we’ll have to wait a bit longer (looks like Dec. 17, but not sure yet). In the meantime, here’s the Invitation for Bid from the school district (wonk alert) which tells you the terms the successful bidder had to meet. Good stuff (for super wonks there is even more info here — scroll down to “Student Nutrition Meal Services”).

And if you are really motivated, here are some more things to study up on for next month:

  • Commissioner Fewer and outgoing Commissioner (Supervisor-elect) Yee introduced a local hire resolution that has many worthy provisions but is sure to ignite some sparks with our Building Trades unions — stay tuned for that to come up for a Board vote and lots of debate in January. 
  • Charter school annual space requests have been submitted and the district’s response is due in early February. Prop 39 requires school districts to offer charters “reasonably equivalent” space to similarly situated district-managed schools.
  • The state budget is still very much at issue for 2013-14 even though Prop 30 passed. The district expects to start its own budget process early next year and we expect to have to cut.  Even though the state will eventually have more money, it will be slow to materialize and make a difference for local school districts.
  • City support for credit recovery and additional support for the Classes of 2014 and 2015 will remain a hot topic. In recent weeks, this issue has been very much in the news because the school district has acknowledged that many students in the current sophomore and junior classes are behind on the credits and/or course requirements they need to graduate under the new A-G graduation policy. Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors passed, by a vote of 7-4, a supplemental $2.2 million budget allocation requested by Supervisor Kim to support the district’s action plan for addressing the problem of large students who are short on credits. However, there are a few more hoops this request has to go through (with a possibility that Mayor Lee will veto it) so stay tuned for future developments.

I’m also excited to announce that the Board members elected in November will be sworn in at a ceremony on January 4, 2013 at Tenderloin Community Elementary School (627 Turk St. at Van Ness) at 6 p.m. The public is invited — please come to see me, Sandra Lee Fewer, Jill Wynns and Matt Haney sworn in on that date. The first meeting of the new Board and our annual leadership elections will occur on Tuesday, January 8 at 6 p.m. in the Board Room at 555 Franklin Street. 

In the meantime, have a very happy and healthy holiday season. The blog will be on hiatus until January 3.

Meeting recap: January 24, 2012

On tonight’s agenda:

  • A resolution commemorating the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Unified School District’s PTA (the organization’s celebration of that anniversary will be held February 10 at Patio Espanol — more details here - PDF);
  • Highlights of the school district’s (and its partners’) celebration of Black History month this February  – events include the African American Read In,  the African American Honor Roll celebration honoring 1,200 African-American SFUSD students with a GPA of 3.0 or better (February 29 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 6 p.m. $10 donation requested), as well as the annual oratory contest sponsored by the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators (Feb. 25 at Thurgood Marshall High School, 8 a.m. to 12 noon);
  • “Sunshining” of proposals and counter-proposals for contract negotiations with United Administrators of San Francisco and United Educators of San Francisco;
  • Approval of the annual spending plan for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) — Commissioners reviewed the plan at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, and heard testimony from members of the PEEF Comunity Advisory Committee suggesting that three activities (teacher recruitment, custodial services for early education centers and funding for the district’s new formative assessments) should be funded with other monies (district staff wrote a response to that report here). For more information and lots more documents, visit the  PEEF web site, which asks for a password but seems to let you in if you just click cancel. In the end, the Board appreciated the input but supported the original spending plan suggested by staff.;
  • Review and approval of the district’s annual independent financial audit — there were two minor findings related to attendance accounting in the district’s early education and afterschool programs, but the independent auditor expressed confidence that the findings were being addressed, and commended staff for a growing string of clean audit reports;
  • An overview of the Governor’s budget proposal released earlier this month – probably the only good thing I can say about this proposal is that it is very much not a done deal. For reasons I can’t quite explain, even the “rosy” scenario — where the Governor’s proposed tax increases passes — results in significant additional cuts;
  • Public comment from parents and community members at Alice Fong Yu and Paul Revere,  and introduction by UESF leadership of the union’s bargaining team for upcoming negotiations. A commenter last week asked me why I haven’t devoted much time in the blog to the competing statements of Paul Revere parents, and the reason is:  I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to muse publicly on personnel issues. This whole episode has been ugly and disruptive for everyone involved and I don’t see how it helps for me to “report” allegations from one side or another.  I did feel momentarily shamed by the comment from one Revere parent who noted the district’s swift response to an outcry from Alice Fong Yu parents when they protested changes to their immersion program (after a meeting with the Curriculum Committee and district leadership last week, a deal for a pilot program was struck that will increase the population of English Learners at the school but maintain its essentially “one-way” immersion model — and tonight the community came to thank us for our swift reaction).  Why weren’t we able to resolve the Paul Revere situation in as swift a manner? the Revere parent asked.  The answer is complex — personnel issues usually can’t be resolved in one meeting and certainly not in public; and there is not the same unified perspective in the Paul Revere community  – teachers and parents have  been vocal about their divided opinions on which direction the school should go. Still, he’s right that struggling schools can’t easily summon 100 parents in matching shirts to attend a Board meeting, but their concerns are just as pressing.

November 2012 ballot looks crowded with initiatives

Last week I was in San Diego for the California School Boards Association annual conference — and I’m working on a series of blog posts about issues I dug into there. Most pressing, however, is the number of initiatives that are being discussed to fix California’s revenue and/or spending, reform its educational and/or governance systems, or some combination thereof.

Qualifying an initiative for the ballot is not easy, so some of the measures we’ve read about will not actually make it to the ballot, but there are enough proposals in the works that political and education policy wonks are beginning to worry that the voters’ clear desire for a solution to our current problems will get lost in a confusing jumble of competing campaigns.

In the conference’s closing “State of the State” roundtable discussion on Saturday, CSBA’s legislative advocate Rick Pratt (soon to be the lead consultant for the Assembly Education Committee) didn’t mince words: “If all four [tax] initiatives make it to the ballot, none will pass.” And where would that lead us? Right back to where we are now, but a year later.

Here are proposals that received a lot of discussion at the conference:

  • “Think Long Blueprint for California”:  Billionnaire Nicholas Berggruen has assembled a committee of former legislators and heavy-hitters, including former Governor Gray Davis and former Assembly Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown. Its not-yet-public initiative would lower the overall tax rate but vastly expand taxation to services, raising at least $10 billion annually. It would form a somewhat scary-sounding Citizens Oversight Committee (appointed by the Legislature), with powers to unilaterally place initiatives on the ballot. Additional revenues would go to schools, but for specific, constrained purposes.
  • “2012 Kids Education Plan” : Ted Lempert, the director of the advocacy organization Children Now, has been working with stakeholders up and down the state to build a coalition of support for four principles that would form the backbone of an as-yet unseen initiative. These are: “a student-centered finance system”; “true transparency”; “significant workforce reforms”, and “new investments in education.” It sounds good, but the devil will be in the details.
  • “Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act”: The California State PTA and the civil rights organization The Advancement Project filed this initiative on November 30 and are beginning the push to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to qualify it. The law would raise $10 billion in new tax revenue for Pre-K-12 education, and require those funds to be spent “at the local school sites, where kids are, not district administration.” It would prohibit the Legislature from directing how monies were spent, placing the new revenues in a  trust fund. The initiative would require re-approval by voters after 12 years.
  • Other miscellaneous tax proposals include an oil and gas extraction tax, and a “split roll” which would suspend Prop. 13 for commercial properties, allowing them to be re-assessed every year.

Update: Just this afternoon, Governor Brown announced he has filed his own initiative. From the Governor’s initiative announcing his action:

My proposal is straightforward and fair.  It proposes a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, a modest and temporary increase in the sales tax, and guarantees that the new revenues be spent only on education.  Here are the details:

  • Millionaires and high-income earners will pay up to 2% higher income taxes for five years. No family making less than $500,000 a year will see their income taxes rise. In fact, fewer than 2% of California taxpayers will be affected by this increase.
  • There will be a temporary ½ cent increase in the sales tax.  Even with this temporary increase, sales taxes will still be lower than what they were less than six months ago.

More details on Brown’s initiative is here.

Why I oppose the school assignment policy statement

Among other measures on the November 2011 ballot is an advisory measure that would ask the San Francisco Unified School district to assign every child to the school closest to where they live. Called “Neighborhood Schools for All,” (or Proposition H), the measure was put on the ballot by parent advocates and Republican party activists.

There is a lot of genuine anger and frustration around the City about our school assignment system. I’ve talked to hundreds of parents about this issue, first as a parent of young children trying to figure out my options, then as a Parents for Public Schools enrollment coach, next as a candidate for public office, and finally as an elected official. This issue is one that constituents want to talk about more than probably any other educational issue in San Francisco.

Proponents of the neighborhood schools  initiative say it “will bring quality neighborhood schools to all students,” and guarantee that all students will (assuming they want to) be able to attend schools closest to their homes. They argue that their initiative is a solution to the problem of family flight and will bring back the many affluent families who currently choose private schools.  I disagree, and I’ll discuss the reasons why in a moment. First, however, it’s important to remember that the school district has just completed a two-year process of redesigning the school assignment system (a process that was not yet complete when efforts to put this initiative on the ballot began), and the current policy balances the desire of many parents to choose which school is best for their children with the feedback from some parents who want to be guaranteed schools closer to home (as long as those schools are high-performing).  The current elementary school assignment process places a much higher priority on proximity to schools than we have had in over a decade.

This initiative is not the solution to the longstanding issue of too many families wanting to attend too few schools, and it’s not the solution to a persistent achievement gap.  Here’s why:

  • The neighborhood schools policy statement will not appreciably impact the number of affluent families who currently choose private schools; nor will it address the longstanding problem of too many students requesting too few schools:  Over the last two decades, we have seen that parents are choosing from a limited, though growing, pool of schools. Prior to 2001, when the district first allowed families to choose from any school in the district, families were allowed to either attend their “attendance area” school OR participate in a choice process for a handful of so-called alternative schools. What we saw under that process was a high number of requests for a handful of high-performing attendance area schools, as well as a high number of requests for a handful of alternative schools. The number of requests for the rest of the district’s 100+ schools? Anemic.  Over the past decade, after the district began implementing a full choice system, the pattern has held, but we have seen improvement in the number of requests for some previously scorned attendance area schools (Miraloma, Sherman and Alvarado are examples — each of these schools was shunned by residents of its attendance area prior to 2001, and each is now on the short list of the most-requested elementary schools in San Francisco). In other words, the district’s experience with allowing parents to submit school choices, even with less certainty of eventual assignment to those choices, has broadened the field of schools that parents are choosing. In recent years, we have seen a modest increase in the number of K applicants as well as an increase in the number of K students eventually enrolling in our schools. Today, there are routinely more requests than seats at roughly half the district’s 73 elementary schools, which is still a problem but a significant improvement over the situation a decade ago.
  • The neighborhood schools policy statement will not, by itself, improve schools that are not being chosen by parents. It will have no impact on the achievement gap:  San Francisco has had for many years, and continues to have, a very wide gap between the level of achievement of White and Asian students compared to the level of achievement of African-American, Latino, and Samoan students. Over the past two years, the Board of Education reviewed student achievement data from a variety of nationwide, regional and local sources, with the objective of determining how school composition influences achievement. We found that two principles held true: that schools with higher (40% +) concentrations of African-American, Latino and Samoan students tended to show the lowest achievement levels, and that Caucasian and Asian-American students do not evidence lower levels of achievement when placed in classrooms with lower-achieving students of other races.  Furthermore, we found that *all* students performed better in classrooms where there was no majority race.  In other words, student assignment policies that encourage racial integration do not hinder any student’s achievement and may in fact enhance many students’ achievement levels.  If every student were assigned to the closest school, some schools would be less segregated, while others would be more segregated. In considering these two facts,  the Board’s current assignment policy balances the desire of parents to choose which school is best for their children, as well as the evidence that integrated schools are better, on average, for all children.
  • The neighborhood schools policy statement will not significantly address the problem of declining middle-class enrollment in San Francisco public schools, nor the overall problem of family flight from San Francisco:  It’s not news that San Francisco has one of the lowest percentages of children under 18 of any major U.S. city.  It’s also no secret that four out of five households earning over $100,000 per year send their children to private schools.  School assignment has played a role in each of these trends, but it isn’t the only — nor even the defining– factor. For years, the high cost of housing has been frequently cited as a contributing factor to family flight. More recently, the faltering economy and lack of jobs has also been cited as a factor.  Even though families cite the perceived quality of public schools as a factor in the decision to leave San Francisco , this doesn’t mean access to the nearest school is a part of that decision to leave. No one that I know of has conducted an analysis of whether parents who live near high-performing schools are more likely to leave, or if those parents are more likely to cite the lack of certainty in school enrollment in their decision to move elsewhere. If anything, I suspect that families who live furthest from high-performing schools are the most likely to leave the city . But as I said, I haven’t seen such a study. Affluent San Franciscans clearly believe that our public schools won’t do as good a job serving their childrens’ educational needs;  based on our choice patterns I can name several schools in affluent areas that would be a “sure thing” if neighborhood residents actually requested them (Dr. William Cobb ES is one; Glen Park ES is another). Most importantly, the newest revision of the student assignment system has improved the odds of K applicants being offered space in their attendance area schools (if that is indeed what they want above all — most evidence collected by the Parent Advisory Council, Parents for Public Schools and SFUSD staff indicates that parents want schools that work for their children — proximity is a secondary consideration). Consider that in the first round of the new assignment system this past spring, just 23 percent of Kindergarten applicants listed their attendance area school as a first choice. Just 24 percent of Kindergarten applicants listed the school closest to their homes as a first choice (in some cases the attendance area school is not the closest). In fact, just 14 of our 73 elementary schools received 50 percent of first choice Kindergarten requests for 2011-12.

Finally, the policy statement is poorly written and would carry with it a number of unintended consequences. For one thing, the policy statement assumes that it is possible for families to have both the certainty of attending the closest school, while also having the opportunity of attending a specialized program like language immersion if they would rather. It would be nice to offer families both certainty and choices, but the two are inversely related as long as all schools in the district are perceived to be of unequal quality.  That’s why the number of families not receiving a choice in the school lottery — about 20 percent — has stayed the same even after the new system was implemented; there are just too many requests for some schools and not enough for others, because some schools are perceived to be of higher quality than others.  Only the slow but steady work of improving instruction, administration and classroom supports will change that perception — student assignment schemes of any stripe cannot. Another (perhaps more minor) flaw with the policy is that it calls for a neighborhood-based assignment system to be implemented in the current 2011-12 school year. Does a yes vote really mean the voter is advocating for students  be re-assigned during the current year? Perhaps not, but there’s no way to know.  In any event, such an undertaking would be chaotic and disruptive, not to mention expensive.  

Anyway, all a student assignment policy can do is set rules and make sure that they are fairly applied to everyone. In our district, the policy the Board and staff spent two years developing also attempts to give everyone equitable access to disparate program offerings across the district, even while acknowledging that it’s a hardship for some families not to attend a school that is accessible to work, home or a reasonable commute on public transit. Our process was transparent and extremely public, including televised monthly committee meetings and meetings held in alternate locations — not just the board room.  When we finally voted to formally adopt the policy in March 2010, there was applause and very little public comment – a far cry from some of the other controversial issues the Board has taken up. 

The current system is not perfect, but it is flexible, and the Board has set up objectives and metrics to determine whether it is working as intended for families. We’ll receive our first monitoring report tonight,  and after that report we’ll begin to evaluate what, if any, adjustments should be made.   We’re facing some real budget challenges again this year, and in the judgment of all the board members, we’ve spent enough time on student assignment policy — it’s time to refocus on other initiatives that will improve schools across the district.  Prop. H is a distraction on an issue we’ve already exhaustively examined and it comes at a time when we can least afford distractions. Please vote NO on Proposition H. 

Brodkin, Mendoza and Murase for Board of Education

Labor Day traditionally marks the start of campaign season, and a headlong rush towards November. This year, three seats on the Board of Education are up, with two incumbents seeking re-election and one open seat (Jane Kim is running for Supervisor in District 6).  I would like to introduce the three candidates I am endorsing for these seats– Margaret Brodkin, Hydra Mendoza and Emily Murase:

Margaret Brodkin

Margaret has over 30 years experience advocating for children’s issues in San Francisco. She is nationally-known for creating the Children’s Fund, which has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for programs serving children and families.  Margaret is relentless in her advocacy and progressive in her politics; even though we may differ on some issues, I know I will always respect her point of view. She is a keen, strategic thinker who relishes debate and asks great questions. Her presence will improve the quality of the Board’s discussions and the stringency of our oversight. To learn more, visit www.brodkinforschoolboard.org

Hydra Mendoza

Hydra has served on the school board for the past four years with distinction, and I’m pleased she has decided to seek a second term. She has provided a valuable link between the City (by day she works as Mayor Newsom’s Education Advisor) and the school district. She has forged good working relationships with each of the Board members, and as a Commissioner has shown herself to be someone who asks good questions and listens to varied points of view; I have enjoyed serving with her since I arrived on the Board in early 2009.  For more information, visit www.hydramendoza.com

Emily Murase

I got to know Emily when she and I ran together during the 2008 election cycle. While her first campaign was not successful, she has shown great perseverance and dedication in her decision to run again this time around. Emily grew up in San Francisco and her family was instrumental in starting the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program that now resides at Rosa Parks Elementary in the Western Addition (both of Emily’s young daughters attend this program). She is active in the Lowell High School alumni association and has served with distinction on the Parent Advisory Council. I know she will be a thoughtful and grounded member of the Board, and bring a welcome on-the-ground perspective as an involved parent in the district.  For more information, visit www.emilymurase.com

I am intentionally disabling comments on this post, as I don’t want to host a debate about the relative merits of candidates. These are my personal choices, which I am broadcasting as a way of helping to inform voters and supporters who have not yet made up their minds or studied the race.  You can always send me your thoughts at comments “at” rachelnorton.com