Tag Archives: elections

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.

January 8, 2013: Meeting recap

gavel“And now it is my pleasure to announce that I have been elected President of the Board of Education.”

It’s kind of strange to chair the annual Board elections and be a candidate at the same time, but with today’s swearing in of new District 7 Supervisor (and outgoing Board President) Norman Yee, I was the only outgoing officer available to chair tonight’s meeting.  I’m honored and humbled to have been unanimously elected President of the Board this evening — thanks to all of my colleagues for their vote of confidence and especially to new Commissioner Matt Haney, who did me the honor of nominating me as a candidate.  Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer was unanimously elected Vice President of the Board.

Board elections and other procedural business disposed of, we then moved to recognitions and commendations.  Alice Fong Yu Alternative School and its principal Liana Szeto were recognized for receiving two major honors — a National Blue Ribbon School award and the Terrell H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership. It was wonderful to see the joy and pride of the AFY community in celebrating these honors — though the school was asked to bring just three representatives to speak at the meeting, they couldn’t resist bringing at least 13, including parents, teachers, and many students. I will never, ever get tired of hearing what I’m told is perfect Mandarin coming from the mouths of African-American, Irish-American, or Filipino-American students at AFY — it’s one of the jewels in our district and the community is rightly proud.  Washington High School teacher Michelle Kyung was also honored by the Board for winning the Carlston Family Foundation award for outstanding teaching.

Also of particular note on tonight’s agenda was the adoption of the district’s annual financial audit. For the first time anyone can remember, there were no findings  requiring attention or remedies from the Board and district leadership. And the absence of findings isn’t unusual just for SFUSD — it’s unusual for school districts across the country. We have had the same auditor for many years, so it’s also not as if Vavrinek, Trine & Day (our audit firm) are just going easy on us — even in my four years on the Board I have seen them ding us for one thing or another.  Bottom line — it is an indication of fiscal transparency and good stewardship of public funds that we were able tonight to adopt a 100% clean audit.  Or, as our auditor Leonard Dana told the Board tonight: “I’ve never been applauded on presenting an audit before. Auditors never get applauded.”

rev foods sampleCommissioners also had an opportunity to sample meals prepared by our new meal provider, Revolution Foods. On tomorrow’s menu: Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and 100% beef meatballs; fresh fruit, butternut squash, and baked whole wheat ranch-flavored chips. I would have to say — not bad at all. I am mostly hearing good things about the first two days of meals with our new provider, though there have been a few glitches. I would like to hear from more parents and kids — what’s your experience with the new Revolution Foods meals? Leave a comment or email me at comments “at” rachelnorton.com.

We heard from many members of the Creative Arts Charter School community, who are alarmed at a proposal to co-locate Gateway Middle School at the Annex building on the Golden Gate Elementary School building they have occupied for several years. Creative Arts is a K-8 school that will have about 400 students next year. Gateway Middle is a 6-8 school that will have about 300 students next year, and is managed by the same group that manages Gateway High School, located for many years at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School site on Scott and Geary (about two blocks from the Golden Gate ES site).  Gateway MS has, since the Board first granted its charter in 2010, expressed a strong desire to be near Gateway HS, and serve the Western Addition.

Co-locations are often contentious and I understand that they are not ideal. No one wants to have to compromise about the program they offer their students so that a completely different program with completely different students can share their space.  District officials tell me that they have agreed to a suggestion that the Gateway, CACS and district decision-makers meet to try to come to a resolution that works for all parties. But somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.

I want to close with my sense of humility and gratitude to my colleagues that I’ve been granted this leadership opportunity (and responsibility) this year.  The quote I contributed to the district’s press release reads, in part: “Every Commissioner is utterly committed to increasing student achievement and making sure every student in San Francisco has access to educational opportunity. Our challenge will be to stay focused and make sure that our time and energy is spent crafting policies that best support these priorities.”

Here we go!

Meeting recap: January 10, 2012

Notes from last night’s Board meeting: The Board elected new officers
tonight — Commissioner Yee will be President and I am Vice President. Board members also expressed sincere thanks to Commissioner Mendoza for her two years of service as a member of Board leadership.

Parents from Alice Fong Yu Alternative School (accompanied by former Board of Education member Dan Kelly, whose child attended the school) came to express their alarm with a plan to change the school’s immersion model. Originally, the school was “one-way” immersion (where every child comes in English-proficient and everyone is immersed in Cantonese and eventually Mandarin). A few years ago, the school began admitting English Learners as one-third of every Kindergarten class (to be admitted as an English proficient student at AFY, children have always had to pass an English skills test). Now, the district is proposing to turn the school into a true dual-immersion model, which would shift the incoming class composition to one-third English-proficient and two-thirds English Learner.

AFY is an award-winning school, one of the school district’s highest-scoring and most highly-requested, but its instructional model (requiring a large number of students who are already proficient in English) ensures that fewer students with challenges will enroll in the first place. AFY parents argue that changing the instruction model will cause the school to become less ethnically diverse; they argue that their school is successful and that changing the instructional model will endanger that success.

I don’t know that I think changing the model will make the school less successful, but I haven’t heard the district’s arguments for why this must happen now. As I understand it, research on one-way vs. dual- immersion programs is inconclusive; just as the research on whether English Learners do better in immersion as opposed to bilingual education is also inconclusive. But judging from the green shirt-clad crowd who came to support AFY, this issue is very important and not going away. I will be bringing the topic to the Curriculum & Program committee on January 18 at 5 p.m. for further discussion.

A group from Paul Revere PK-8th school came to speak in support of their principal (blog readers might remember that another group of parents has come to speak to the Board several times to express their unhappiness with the same administrator).

Other items of note:

  • Superintendent Garcia told the Board and public that he has reviewed the Governor’s proposed budget (inadvertently released last week), and that it contains very bad news for SFUSD. Our deficit could grow to $40 million in 2012-13 after we had been planning for a worst-case scenario of $20 million. The news coincided with the release of initial contract proposals for bargaining with United Educators of San Francisco and United Administrators of San Francisco. Leaders of both unions were on hand to remind us that their members have already given — a lot. With the “sunshining” of proposals, bargaining can now begin, but I would expect it to take a while as there are no good agreements to be made.
  • The Board honored members of the District English Learners Advisory Committee (DELAC); workers on the district’s building at 1601 Turk St. who went above and beyond to warn residents of a large, destructive fire on December 22, 2011; and writer Katherine Otoshi, who together with the Japanese American Citizens League, arranged for copies of her two wonderful anti-bullying books (“Zero” and “One“) to be donated to SFUSD elementary school libraries.
  • Finally, the Board passed President Yee’s resolution affirming district support for an upcoming summit he has organized and will chair (possibly with Mayor Edwin Lee). The purpose of the “Pre-K – 3rd: Looking Back, Moving Forward”  summit is to create and to support a vision of a PreK to 3rd Grade which would allow many different entities and organizations working on early literacy to better work together and align their efforts. The summit will include a national speaker, Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President ofthe Annie E. Casey Foundation,  who is leading a national initiative to have all children read at grade level. It is scheduled for February 25, 2012, location and time TBA.

Why Tuesday?

My friend Alex Tourk has recently enlisted me in a new project he is working on for November — an effort to increase voter turnout by allowing people to vote on a day other than Tuesday.  Alex says:

Over the past 10 elections we have averaged 47% voter turnout of eligible voters. That’s abysmal for a city that considers itself to be politically savvy.  Less than half of our population is participating in the democratic process; electing our leaders, and making important decisions for the future of our City. 
There’s no silver bullet that will magically ensure 100% voter participation, but the decision to hold our elections on Tuesdays is one that was made 150 years ago in a different era.  It was a Judeo-Christian society where individuals would have their days of worship on the weekends, pack up their horse and buggy on Monday, and travel into town squares to conduct their business, which included voting. 
We decided 150 years ago to host elections when it was convenient for people to vote, but today, how is hosting an election mid-week in any way convenient?  Are we encouraging people to participate in the democratic process by hosting elections on a day when families have numerous obligations?
Changing elections to a day where people have fewer obligations is a step we can take towards making voting and participation in our democratic process more accessible, and I hope it’s a step you’ll take with me. 

Alex is not one to do things in a half-hearted or small way, so he’s launching a full-on campaign to convince San Franciscans that weekend voting is an idea whose time has come. On Saturday April 3, Why Tuesday SF will formally launch a signature drive to put the Saturday Voting Act on the November 2010 ballot (10,000 signatures from San Francisco registered voters will be needed by July 7). The Saturday Voting Act will:

  • Extend opportunities to vote by opening all polling places on the Saturday before a Tuesday election.
  • Maintain traditional Tuesday voting, as well as all other means of voting, including absentee and early voting.
  • Not cost taxpayers one dime, since all costs associated with the Saturday Voting Act will be donated by organizations and individuals.
  • Engage our youth to participate in the electoral process and become more active participants in our neighborhoods, our schools, and our future.

Why Tuesday, indeed?  To get involved or learn more about the Saturday Voting Act, visit whytuesdaysf.org or come on by the kickoff event this Saturday, April 3 at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center (1050 McAllister St. @ Webster) at 11 a.m.  San Francisco registered voters can get a petition and start collecting signatures now!