And so it begins: Fighting over scraps

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.


3 responses to “And so it begins: Fighting over scraps

  1. Hi Jonathan – it’s a good question. In Bayview, we have failed for so long I am not sure what success should look like. In the case of Willie Brown — it’s not just money, it’s a paradigm shift. What middle school do students in the Bayview deserve? How could we as a district completely reimagine the 21st century middle school to make sure it’s providing rigorous curriculum in a way that is relevant to students? Experiential and project-based learning should be part of the curriculum, as should foreign languages, arts and serious math and science instruction. Students should write at every opportunity, and should be mentored by caring adults and encouraged to form strong relationships with those mentors (I was reading just today about research that shows people who have experienced extreme trauma in childhood can completely overcome the effects of that trauma if they are rewarded with at least one strong relationship with a caring, supportive adult). They should take lots of field trips to other areas of the City — the beach (to learn about the environment, water conservation, ecosystems and the importance of environmental stewardship), the Financial district (to learn about financial markets and how business operates), farmers’ markets and the kitchens of SF’s fanciest restaurants (to learn about nutrition and healthy eating and the cuisines of different cultures), the Symphony, the Opera, the Ballet, the DeYoung and the Legion of Honor to learn about and experience the arts . . . many SF students already do this. EVERY SF student should do these things, and feel free to explore and own the city that is their birthright. How much does all of this cost? I have no idea — but whatever the price tag, that is what all of our children, regardless of zone, deserve.

  2. Jonathan Woahn

    Rachel –

    Thank you for taking the time to hear us out last night, I realize that there were a lot of items on the agenda for the meeting and it must have been exhausting. However, after reading your thoughts on the meeting and especially regarding the issues that were addressed about the schools in our zone, it makes me feel as if the reason for the apparent inaction/neglect of our zone has been due to budget restraints. Which makes me wonder – assume that the budget could support any plan you could dream up – what actions would you take?

  3. At the risk of sounding too much like a 60’s activist I was not around to experience first hand, please tell folks about #USUncut coming to a corporate tax dodger near you. This is a grass roots movement borrowed from the UK to raise awareness about our wonderful fortune 500 folks that pay less tax than you and I do as individuals. We the middle class are tired of being asked to bankroll all of society while they pay nothing.