It really is looking like we might not get to vote on tax extensions in June after all — though the Governor really could declare any day he wants for a special election (it doesn’t have to happen on a Tuesday or even in June at all!). But the latest gossip I’m hearing from Sacramento is that now the Governor is talking about bypassing the legislature altogether and putting tax increases on the November ballot through the initiative process (three guesses who might help pay for the signature gathering drive!). Update: here are Brown’s current options, according to a column in the Sacramento Bee.
Anyway, the “catastrophic” Option B is looking more and more like it might come to pass, at least in the short-term. And when Option B happens, constituencies start fighting with each other over their share(s) of the budget.
Tonight’s meeting started off beautifully — we showed a student documentary made about the SOTA mural I wrote about last week, and teacher Heidi Hubrich was on hand to talk about her students and their artistic achievement. We zipped through three charter school renewals (well, not zipped exactly, there was a lot of public comment and some board discussion about the growing trend of charters using the El Dorado SELPA to deliver special education services rather than using the SFUSD SELPA – it’s a lot cheaper for the charter operators. In general we need to improve the district’s oversight of all of the charters we’ve authorized in the area of special education, but that’s a discussion for another day). Final results: City Arts & Tech HS was renewed on a 6-1 vote; Five Keys Independent HS and Five Keys Charter School, our two charter schools for students incarcerated at the County Jail in San Bruno, were renewed on a 7-0 vote, with nary a dry eye in the process — the story of Five Keys is one that restores your faith in humanity, your faith that people can change, and our conviction that educational opportunity transforms lives.
We had a very interesting discussion on the Board’s expanded Residency Policy – none of the principles in the policy are new, but they had been contained in existing Administrative regulations, procedures and practices that had not been memorialized in a single Board policy. We’ve stepped up residency enforcement as part of implementing the new assignment system, so updating our Board policy with those existing regulations, procedures and practices made sense. What surprised me was that there was any controversy at all about this policy. Several community members have come to every Board discussion about the policy, arguing that the district is giving itself sweeping new powers to enforce residency — but by this logic, any school district that assigns students on the basis of where they live is assuming these kinds of powers. Anyway, the Board voted 6-1 to adopt the policy (Commissioner Fewer voted against it as she feels unwilling to enforce such a policy against graduating seniors, even if they are found to have committed residency fraud). I understand her concerns but I don’t think we can leave any loopholes here — drawing a line around seniors simply encourages families to just “get through” 11th grade and then breathe easily. We have found we have a significant problem with people using false addresses to attend highly-sought after schools in San Francisco: this policy is the right step to address that problem.
Then came public comment – at least two hours of it. A group from Bret Harte Elementary came out to complain about the administration of the Bayview Zone. A group from Carver Elementary came out to complain about their principal. A group from Bryant came out to protest the reassignment of some of their teachers, required under the Turnaround model plan that made the school eligible for funds under the Federal School Improvement Grant program for persistently underperforming schools. Finally, a group from Washington HS came out to protest what they called the “very bad” Option A budget scenario and the “catastrophic” Option B budget scenario. The situation at Washington will need more digging, but it appears that a “bubble” senior class will graduate this year, causing an overall drop in year-over-year enrollment at the school. Since enrollment = dollars, the already bad budget is looking really bad at Washington.
Anyway, to tie it all together – all of these issues are, ultimately, about sharing a pie that is not big enough for everyone. Bryant and Carver get dollars they desperately need, but there are strings attached — a beloved principal, or beloved staff have to go in order to accept the funds. These conditions seem awfully abstract and arbitrary to the families in the trenches, and so they are pushing back. There are other management and instructional and systemic issues in play at Washington and Bret Harte as well, but at the core? Money and a fight over who has the power to make decisions.
The other day I was astounded to look back at a news article from 2006 that talked about how ill-funded SFUSD schools were at around $8,000 a student. Now? Even before Option A or Option B, we’re at around $4,000 per student. But here we are, fighting over scraps, thinking — if we could just hold on to what we have, everything would be OK.
Last up: Commissioner Maufas introduced a resolution to rename Burnett Early Education Center after Leola Havard, a renowned African-American educator administrator whose roots reach deep into the school district (her sister, Lois Sims, was a teacher in the district and her niece, Deborah Sims was the district’s Chief Academic Officer under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Collectively, the family has dedicated over 50 years of service to SFUSD). It turns out that Peter Burnett, the original honoree of the school, was (in the words of Rev. Amos Brown, who addressed the Board this evening) a bully. The first Governor of California, Mr. Burnett was an advocate of banishing African-Americans from the state and while he was at it, Chinese-Americans should go too. (See this exhaustive history by historian and civil rights leader John William Templeton, who also addressed the Board this evening). The Board will issue a final vote on this proposal at the April 12 meeting, but I predict it will pass.
And actually, Rev. Arnold Townsend of the NAACP made a great suggestion tonight, noting that SFUSD would probably have renamed Burnett years ago had anyone bothered to learn about the school’s honoree in the first place. Do you know who/what your child’s school is named after? Sounds like a perfect 4th grade history lesson as a companion to the obligatory project on the California missions.