Update: Oops and a big thank you to Bernal Dad who pointed out that I neglected to mention that Daniel Webster parents came by during public comment to again let us know that they are unhappy with the choice of ISA as a feeder middle school for Daniel Webster. The parents propose a split campus K-8 with the ISA site.
A mostly routine agenda tonight, with a lot of public comment on various topics (see below). I’m leading with the good news, which is that the district has finally reached a deal to sell 700 Font St., a long-abandoned school site that is pretty much smack in the middle of the SF State campus.
As soon the property was formally declared surplus (not sure when that happened but it was probably almost a decade ago), it made sense for SF State to purchase it, but the sticking point over many years has been price. At one point, probably 2007, the district had a buyer and a deposit, but the $13 million deal eventually fell through.
I visited the site back in February and it is an eyesore — it’s boarded up, full of graffiti and a haven for homeless people and those who are troubled or otherwise up to no good. Because of its condition, age and general layout, it is no longer usable as a school site. SF State has also had numerous security issues with the site (the property line — on the left — is just feet away from student dorms).
So it’s truly win-win for both parties that we have finally come to an agreement to sell the property for $11.1 million. By law, that income can’t benefit our general fund, as proceeds from real estate assets can only be spent on capital improvements or purchasing other property. However, here’s what it can do: the district will use the $11.1 million to pay down long-term debt on another property, which will realize $875,000 annually in interest savings — interest payments that would have come out of the general fund. In other words, $875,000 we would have had to pay each year for the next 16 years will now be saved and can go to the classroom.
Other highlights from tonight’s meeting:
- A presentation from the Bay Area Urban Debate League, which provides afterschool debate classes in a number of SFUSD high schools. Debate is such a great way to learn critical thinking, public speaking and general literacy, so I remain a huge fan of this program. Program participants urged us to find ways to make the course a regular part of the academic day at the high schools, and it currently qualifies as a “G” elective under the district’s (and UC’s) requirements.
- The Board unanimously passed a resolution authored by President Yee which clarifies the support and assistance the district will give to current employees who are non-citizens but working under an H-1B or other visa. Commissioner Yee’s resolution was born from a case where an employee’s work visa expired, and advocates were critical of what they saw as the district’s lack of support for the employee’s application to renew that visa.
- Public comment from parents and teachers at Paul Revere, Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, and Visitacion Valley Elementary, regarding personnel decisions. We have heard a great deal from different factions of Paul Revere parents this year, some of whom dislike the current principal and others who like her. Tonight’s group spoke in the principal’s favor and urged the Board to renew her contract (spring is the time we make most of our staffing decisions for the next school year). A group of Harvey Milk parents and teachers, by contrast, urged us to overturn a site council decision to forgo an interview process and offer the current principal another year at the school. Parents and teachers from Visitacion Valley Elementary spoke against the principal’s decision not to “re-elect” (rehire) a probationary teacher at the school. These are all touchy issues with strong feelings on all sides — because they involve past or future personnel votes by the Board, I’m not going to comment on the merits of each of these positions and no particular opinion should be inferred by what I’ve written above.
- Finally, three parents of children who qualify for transitional kindergarten came to protest the district’s handling of the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Act (passed in 2010), which gradually moves the eligibility date for Kindergarten back over three years, so that eventually children must be age five by September 1 of the year they enter Kindergarten (from the original December 1 eligibility date). Some believe their current four-year-olds would do just fine in Kindergarten and so are urging the district to issue age waivers to their children. Others are fine with waiting another year for their children to enter Kindergarten, but take issue with the fact that there is not a broader choice of Transitional Kindergarten programs to choose from (the law requires districts to offer Transitional Kindergarten to four-year-olds who otherwise would have been eligible to enter Kindergarten). I’ve talked to Sen. Simitian, who wrote the legislation to move the eligibility date and create Transitional Kindergarten, and I believe he did a good thing by drawing a new line for Kindergarten readiness. Kindergarten is much more academic than previously, and children who (for whatever reason) are not academically ready really suffer. At the same time, I believe an unintended consequence of the legislation was to create another complex and possibly unfunded mandate for schools. SFUSD’s handling of this issue has been far from perfect but I believe it is compliant with the law and minimizes the district’s financial risk in a time of great fiscal peril (did anyone see the news that state revenues, yet again, fell short of predictions? That’s fiscal peril for schools). But no, the district’s plan does not meet the needs of all stakeholders and I’m sorry for that.