Recap: Bonds, rocks, magnets and angry teachers (not necessarily in that order)

UESF members crammed the Board room again tonight, after picketing outside district headquarters during the evening rush up Franklin St. People are angry, because May 15 is fast approaching and lots of teachers are holding pink slips that could become permanent as of that date. As UESF President Dennis Kelly told the Board and Superintendent tonight: “You’re putting a lot of faith in three mediation dates.”  We are. Like everyone else in the Board room tonight, I am really hoping we can get this contract resolved in mediation.

Tonight’s agenda was pretty routine, actually, as agendas go — but it didn’t really feel that way. This week I learned that it is harder than I thought to be both a blogger and a policymaker (Call me naive about the inherent conflicts). A post on pending legislation that seemed relatively non-controversial when I wrote it apparently rang some alarm bells in Sacramento, enough to prompt a few phone calls to my colleagues and a post in the Bay Guardian anticipating “fireworks” at the school board meeting.  I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that the Board would support SB 955, a Republican-sponsored bill adamantly opposed by teachers. Nevertheless, there is going to be a debate in the Legislature over various teaching-related provisions in the Education Code this year, and so it’s important for SFUSD to be ready. Last year, the Board made an agreement that any controversial or high-profile legislation would be taken up by the full Board, rather than leaving it to the Rules, Policy and Legislation committee (which I chair) to take positions on behalf of the entire Board (the usual custom). When staff asked us to weigh in on some of the provisions in SB 955, I thought it was best to refer that request to the entire Board for a discussion. But I think my action was misconstrued as a suggestion that the Board support SB 955, and my post discussing some of the pros and cons did not help matters. Anyway, it was a very perfunctory presentation and there were no fireworks.

That bullet dodged, the Board took up two other matters of note: the annual report of the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee (another clean audit and an unexpectedly amusing presentation from Vice Chairman Mike Theriault) and a proposal from the Superintendent to apply for a Federal grant from the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP).  The bond oversight committee report was thankfully routine and deserves the Board’s heartfelt gratitude for a difficult and thankless job well-done; I also offer my deep thanks to our Facilities Department (especially Leonard Tom!) for helping us rebuild (get it?) our reputation in this area. This is the fifth clean audit in a row, and that is the beginning of a clear trend; hopefully the history is becoming ancient.

On to the MSAP grant application: the district will apply for $8.5 million in Federal funds aimed at helping us develop magnet programs at racially-isolated schools as a desegregation mechanism. The district application will detail plans for an International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Leonard Flynn Elementary (already underway) and John Muir Elementary schools; those programs (more properly called the Primary Years Programme) would feed into a new IB strand (the Middle Years Programme and the Diploma Programme) at International Studies Academy (a school located in Potrero Hill serving grades 6-12).  The fourth planned program enhancement detailed in the application would be a new arts-focused program at Everett Middle School; this program would feed into our Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, a high school serving grades 9-12.

I am enthusiastic about the grant application and glad we were able to meet the incredibly short timeline for turning this application around (it was announced in late March and is due next week).  I am a little worried about how the IB Primary Years Programme works in both the immersion and English-only strands at Flynn, as well as the necessity that Flynn immersion students will evidently have to choose between immersion and continuing on in an IB program for middle school. However, there is a planning year built in to the grant application and so there is time for those questions to be resolved. My only other worry is that $8.5 million isn’t enough money to truly fund this ambitious and worthy plan — we’ll see.

Oh, and the rocks? As part of his public comment, Mr. Kelly of UESF held up some photographs of rocks — seriously, rocks! — that he said had been sold to SFUSD for “twelve to eighteen hundred, not including delivery,” according to the teacher who took the photos. After this display, a number of us looked quizzically at the Superintendent and mouthed “Why are we buying rocks?”  Thinking quickly, and with his characteristic goofiness, the Supe mouthed back: “They’re not for me!”  So I’ll have to get back to you on that.

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