An “eat your Wheaties” meeting

Muhammad_AliEvery once in a while, we have an “eat your Wheaties” meeting. Tomorrow night is one of those meetings.

There are three major items in the printed agenda, including a report from the Arts Education Master Plan task force, the renewal of the Teach for America contract, and a sweeping resolution that would reconfigure our P.E. programs and approach to JROTC. We also expect a large showing from UESF members, who are coming to rally for both a wage increase and increased investment in the Safe and Supportive Schools policy.

After tonight’s Personnel and Labor Committee meeting, it’s hard to see where the Teach for America contract will find enough support. Commissioners Fewer and Wynns spoke passionately against the program, and President Haney voiced concerns as well. In the past, Commissioner Walton has voted against the program and stated he doesn’t think the model is right for San Francisco. While I’m loath to tie the staff’s hands when it comes to recruiting badly-needed teachers, even I feel ambivalent after tonight’s presentation. The proposed contract is for 15 teachers — a drop in the bucket towards our recruiting needs this year, even though we’re specifying only hard to staff credential areas like math and special education. Teach for America interns attend a five-week summer boot camp before entering the classroom and most end up in our lowest-performing schools.  Many who come through the program are good teachers. Some aren’t. Most don’t stay in San Francisco, or in teaching at all, over the long term. Last year I passionately defended the Teach for America contract. This year, I’m wondering if it’s worth all of the fighting.  Maybe, if the Board sent a message against business as usual, we might get a different result over the long-term. I’m still undecided about how I’ll vote.

The JROTC resolution is kind of a mess, because authors Wynns and Murase have adamantly refused to split various half-baked P.E. policy revisions from some badly-needed reforms to our JROTC policy. Here’s what I support in the resolution:

  • Recognizing the new JROTC credential, which has been approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing as an appropriate credential to teach JROTC;
  • Allowing the JROTC course to meet the state’s P.E. requirement, so long as the course is found to satisfy the state’s required P.E. framework;
  • Continuing to allow students who take JROTC as an elective to enroll in P.E. independent study supervised by instructors holding the new JROTC credential, rather than requiring the instructors to have a P.E. credential;
  • Removing the district’s prohibition on the program receiving central office funding as well as site-based funding (this is probably the most controversial JROTC-provision).

Unfortunately, the resolution also contains some sweeping provisions allowing students at alternative high schools to take P.E. independent study, and provisions allowing students enrolled in high school athletics and marching band to receive P.E. credit. Any or all of these things might be good ideas or they might not be, but the controversy that perennially surrounds JROTC, as well as the complexity of the current resolution, has drowned out any other reasonable policy provisions.

The fact is, three board members will likely not support anything related to JROTC, so I don’t really understand the strategy of trying to hide some needed JROTC policy revisions behind other sweeping P.E. issues. At every committee meeting I have voiced my concerns about the way this resolution is written, but so far the authors have refused to consider splitting the P.E. issues from the JROTC issues. We’ll see what happens tomorrow night — I would hate to see the JROTC instructors and the kids who love the program pay for the Board’s inability to reach a compromise.

Anyway, after we discuss all of the above, we also have closed session. Eat your Wheaties. It’s going to be a LOOONG night.

Recap: QTEA, comfort women, and more

Due to a work commitment I was an hour late to tonight’s meeting so I was not present for the annual report of the Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) oversight committee this evening. I’ll have to watch a recording of the meeting to fully absorb their report, but I gather that members have raised questions about the district’s carryover of at least some of the annual revenues from this fund.

For review: the QTEA is the district’s parcel tax, passed by voters in June 2008. In 2016-17, property owners will be assessed $238.68 per parcel, generating about $40 million in revenue to support teacher compensation, professional development, technology and innovation in the school district. The QTEA sunsets June 30, 2028.

On the carryover issue, I have to do more research because I  missed the opportunity to ask some key questions tonight. The contention is that the district should be putting more of the annual revenues into teacher compensation now; the rejoinder is that the carryover has been set aside to pay for negotiated salary increases. Given that the district and UESF have just agreed to accelerate salary increases, both these arguments could be moot. I’ve asked for an additional discussion of the QTEA at the budget committee, either May 4 or June 1 depending on scheduling. And as someone who walked a lot of precincts to pass QTEA (before I was elected to the Board), it’s very important to me that we live up to what we promised.

We also had a report on the Our Children, Our Families (OCOF) initiative established by the reauthorization of the Public Education Enrichment Fund and the Children’s Fund in 2014. Some very good work has been done in establishing a steering committee (the OCOF Council) chaired jointly by the Superintendent and Mayor Lee. The group has established a detailed framework (caution, big PDF download) and is working on their first 5-year plan.

After a recess for closed session, we convened a Special Meeting to consider a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Mendoza urging the state to include curriculum about the “comfort women” in the state’s history curriculum standards. (Last fall, the Board unanimously passed a resolution to incorporate information about the comfort women in SFUSD’s history curriculum.)

The “comfort women” were prostitutes who serviced the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. Most people agree that the women — Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Indonesian nationals — were forced either by economic or other means into sex slavery, even if the women did at times receive payment. But there the agreement ends. In recent years, activists have sought to compel the Japanese government to issue apologies and reparations to former comfort women. In late 2015, the Japanese government did issue an apology of sorts to Korean comfort women, because the Korean government has been most vocal and forceful in demanding acknowledgement of the Korean women who were enslaved as comfort women. Still, activists argue that other nations deserve the same treatment. For their part, Japan’s supporters (most notably, tonight, Commissioner Murase, who is Japanese-American and has deep ties to Japan) argue that the tone of the comfort women debate is uncomfortably anti-Japanese.

That’s the geopolitics in a nutshell. For myself, the argument that facing historical atrocities is necessary but painful really resonates. Like many innocent Japanese-Americans, Commissioner Murase’s father was interned in a concentration camp in the 1940s, a shameful chapter in United States history. Tonight Commissioner Mendoza recounted her 90-year-old mother’s memory of being hidden in a rice cannister as a young girl in the Philippines during WWII, to make sure she wasn’t kidnapped by Japanese soldiers. My mother remembers being taught to be afraid of “Japs” in 1940s Berkeley, of all places. War makes people do, say and think terrible things. I think our children deserve to know that, and (if we do our jobs well) know better.

SF educators to receive raises sooner

I have heard from many constituents regarding UESF’s grievance with the school district on the implementation schedule of wage increases agreed-upon as part of the three-year contract expiring June 30, 2017.

Good news: the school district and UESF have agreed to accelerate the schedule of raises so that all educators represented by UESF will receive a five percent raise starting with their first regularly-scheduled paycheck after July 1, 2016. Here is the Superintendent’s announcement:

We are all so deeply grateful for the powerful and critically important work our teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and other UESF members do every day for our students. That is why I wanted to take this opportunity to share some great news with all of you, even though it directly impacts only UESF members.

SFUSD and UESF have reached an agreement today to move the original January 2017 raise to the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. Given this decision, every UESF member will receive a 5% raise at the start of the school year, effectively moving the planned second salary increment of 2.25% up by six (6) months.  The raises will be implemented in the first paycheck of the school year for all UESF members, both classified and certificated. Originally, the contract called for a 2.75% raise for the pay period starting in July 2016 and a 2.25% raise for the pay period starting in January 2017.

. . .  The agreement effectively settles the existing grievances related to the timing of the second salary increment to the mutual satisfaction of both the Union and the District.

As the school year comes to a close, SFUSD was able to find cost savings and wanted to contribute these savings to as many employees’ salaries as possible.  This agreement will, in effect, result in 6 more months of increased salaries than previously planned.

We know this is a challenging time to afford living in the Bay Area. The staggered pay schedule that has been in effect for more than 20 years resulted in confusion this winter as some UESF employees received their raises in January and some in February. Unfortunately, this placed added stress on those teachers who thought they would see their increase earlier in the calendar year.

In addition to helping our valued current UESF members start next school year with a higher base salary, we hope this pay increase acceleration will also help us address our projected recruitment challenge due to the national teacher shortage. Higher bottom line salaries for UESF members starting in July 2016 will hopefully entice more teacher candidates and others as they explore their options.

Recap: April 12 – voting and not much else

Very short agenda for last night’s meeting, which was good because we were in danger of losing quorum most of the meeting. Commissioners Walton and Murase are out of the country, and Commissioners Wynns, Fewer and I are running for office with heavy demands on our time at the moment.
Somehow we made it work, and I am very proud that “Encouraging Students to Exercise Their Voting Rights,” authored by Commissioner Fewer and I, and co-sponsored by student delegates Teresia Chen and Miguel Tantiado, passed unanimously. I’m very grateful to the Youth Commissioners who came out to testify in favor, and I owe a huge debt to the youth of Vote16SF who have been incredibly passionate and persuasive advocates for lowering the voting age.

In February, the Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Vote16 initiative, but we felt we could actually go further, right now, before voters actually go to the polls to decide whether to lower the voting age. Last night’s resolution doesn’t require an act of the voters, because it’s already state law that people as young as 16 can pre-register to vote. When I learned that,  I looked up the research on pre-registration. A 2009 study from George Mason University tracked outcomes of pre-registration programs in Florida and Hawaii and found that they were helpful in encouraging regular voting. So, why not promote voting in the American Democracy classes every senior in SFUSD already takes? And why not make voter registration forms available so that every SFUSD student who is eligible to register knows how to do so?

Originally, we wanted to make voter registration a classroom activity, but because a significant percentage of our students  (we don’t know exactly how many and we don’t ask) are undocumented, such a requirement could put an undetermined number of students at risk for filing a false government document. So instead, the school district will partner with the Department of Elections and make voter registration forms available to students, and we will also make sure students know whether or not they are eligible to vote.

Some people think 16-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote, and as a parent of a 16-year-old, I understand that instinct, because 16-year-0lds can be very exasperating. But they can also be incredibly earnest, idealistic and thoughtful, and adults tend to make a lot of decisions for them without asking. Also, when you think about it, driving is as much a privilege as voting when you factor in personal responsibility. In addition, voting is a habit that takes root over time. If, as I do, you care about people exercising their right to vote as early and as often as legal, Vote16 is not a hard leap to make.

A number of public speakers came out to denounce a proposed resolution (pulled by the authors, Commissioners Mendoza and Fewer) that urged information about “comfort women” be included in the state’s history standards. The history of comfort women has been a hot topic of late, because activists have been pushing for this very dark chapter of WWII history to become better-known and acknowledged. Other activists say that the “sexual slavery” narrative of the comfort women is overblown.

Recap: Feb. 22, 2016 — CAT, doors and teachers

Key events from last night’s meeting:

  • Renewing the charter for City Arts and Tech (CAT) charter HS; there are some real concerns about the school’s high suspension rate (16% in recent years) but most of us feel the school is doing enough good things for students to renew the charter. The school has pledged to cut the suspension rate in half by next year so we will be watching that closely.
  • Public comment: parents and community members came again to remind us that the situation at Carver Elementary is untenable. The school was designed in the 1960s as an open pod, all the rage at the time, but times have changed. Parents and teachers feel strongly that the noise and open design of the school presents problems both for student learning and student security, and they are demanding the school be remodeled to address these issues. I think every Board member agrees that the school design is not workable, and the Superintendent announced that funds from previous bonds are available to address Carver facility issues — possibly as much as $1 million.
  • The Board passed the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) spending plan, which included new spending of more than $800,000 since the last time we discussed the plan at the Feb. 15 Committee of the Whole. New money is good, and I am in broad agreement with the Superintendent’s plan to divide the additional revenues between the SLAM (Sports, Libraries, Arts and Music) portion and the “third-third” (other general revenues) portion — directed to Peer Resources and the SOAR program that serves and supports students with serious behavioral issues. Still, as the chair of the Budget Committee,  I had to raise the issue that a significant chunk of new money dropped into the budget between the first reading and the Board vote, and I am a little uncomfortable that the Board had no discussion on how to spend those funds before second reading.
  • The Board voted unanimously to support Supervisor Campos’ legislation that would expand tenant protections to prevent teachers and other school employees, as well as families with school-age children, from being evicted during the school year for most reasons other than nonpayment of rent.

Important news

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 8.05.16 PM.pngBack in January, I shared that I will seek re-election to the Board of Education this November. Since that time, I’ve also decided to seek election to the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) this June. The DCCC is the governing board of the local Democratic Party, charged with registering voters, raising money, setting policy and voting on Party endorsements. There is no conflict in serving on both the Board of Education and the DCCC.

I decided to run for DCCC because, in this heavily Democratic city, it is the body that sets our political priorities. My two priorities are open space and schools — open space because of my work with the San Francisco Parks Alliance, and schools because of my work on the Board of Education. I think both of those priorities should rank higher in our politics. To learn more about my DCCC candidacy, and how you can help, visit my DCCC campaign web site.

Only registered Democrats can vote for DCCC, and you can only vote for candidates in your  Assembly District. I live in Assembly District 19 (Phil Ting’s district), so if you are a Democrat who lives in David Chiu’s district, you won’t see me on your ballot. Check your registration status here! You can re-register to vote online at the Secretary of State’s web site — the last day to register to vote for the June election is May 23.

Recap: Another long one

San Francisco isn’t proud of our outcomes for African American students, who are not achieving at the level of White and Asian students and are much more likely to be identified for special education, suspended and/or expelled than students of other racial and ethnic groups. We’ve been working on (or at least talking about) the twin achievement and opportunity gaps for African American students as long as I’ve been on the Board, and for a long time before that.

As one speaker said at a recent meeting, “[SFUSD’s data] shows that Black students are not going to the same school district as White and Asian students.” That’s a profound statement, when you absorb it.

In May 2015, the Board established the African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI) and made a number of audacious promises, including transparency, tracking and reporting on data on the condition of African American students. So, the centerpiece of tonight’s meeting was a rich discussion around the mid-semester report from the AAALI, one of an ongoing series of progress reports on the Initiative. The upshot: some modest, positive steps have been taken — we’ve got a good team in place and a couple of interesting pilot projects, including the “Village Roundtable.”

The premise is, of course, that it take a village to raise a child. The Roundtable pilot selected six schools with high concentrations of African American students– George Washington Carver ES, John Muir ES, Martin Luther King, Jr. MS, Paul Revere K-8, Mission HS and Burton HS–and selected five focal students at each school. Each of those students will be surrounded by a “village” of volunteers — peers, educators, parents or other adult guardians/allies, social workers, counselors, and representatives from community-based organizations and faith-based organizations. The hope is that the “village” will be the support network that helps a struggling child achieve.

Another project is a postsecondary initiative, which encourages and supports African American students to apply to college and seek financial aid, then continues to follow and support them in their postsecondary pursuits. Google.org just awarded SFUSD $1 million over three years to support this project, which we hope will increase the number of African American graduates of SFUSD applying to college and being successful in college. (Of 253 African American graduates in the SFUSD class of 2015, an analysis last summer found that just 113 had requested a transcript be sent to a 2- or 4-year postsecondary program.)

Other topics:

  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution authored by Commissioners Haney and Walton on supporting children of incarcerated parents. I want to specifically call out Project What!, whose youth leaders provided very raw and honest testimony about their experiences growing up with incarcerated parents. I would most likely have supported this resolution without their testimony, because it is focused on a small group of students with acute and well-documented needs and has minimal budget impact (about $100K annually). Still, the testimony was incredibly moving and made such a strong case for the resolution — I was very proud of the youth and commend them for really making their experiences real for all of us. Thank you, especially Arvaughn Williams, who will one day without a doubt hold elected office somewhere.
  • Public comment from teachers who are struggling to afford San Francisco. I was particularly affected by testimony from two Kindergarten teachers at Cesar Chavez ES (one a seven-year veteran) who said the time is drawing near where they just won’t be able to keep up the struggle anymore. Cesar Chavez is a Mission District school serving a very high population of low-income English Learner students, and their students desperately need experienced teachers and stability. These teachers said they love teaching at Cesar Chavez and their school community but they’re getting very tired of living with roommates and commuting from Oakland. Something is going to have to give, and our students shouldn’t have to.

Notes from the Budget Committee:

Last week we had a Budget Committee meeting, and among the items discussed were preliminary school site budgets for 2016-17 (given to principals in late February) and planning for new investments in 2016-17. At the moment, we are planning for about $20 million in additional ongoing General Fund expenditures for 2016-17: previously-negotiated employee salaries and benefits, required increases in our payments to the State Teacher Retirement System (STRS), and cost-of-living increases in our contributions to special education, early education and student nutrition, and facilities maintenance cost increases. This leaves about $10 million for new spending. Of that, about $5 million has already been promised to school sites via the Weighted Student Formula and Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) — centrally-funded resources targeted based on student and school characteristics and needs. Another $2.5 million or more will likely go to enhance existing and renegotiated collective bargaining agreements. The Superintendent would like to spend almost $2 million more on technology infrastructure to support several central office functions, including Human Resources, Finance and Information Technology (the Budget Committee has reviewed these department budgets this year and our reviews have revealed a lot of needs). Still, that would leave only about $500,000 for new priorities, and the Board had developed a long list. So we have a lot more work to do.

We did learn about a new tweak to the Weighted Student Formula, which administrators are calling the “Concentration Resource.” It’s a way of targeting funds from the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) Concentration Grants, based on the percentage of focal students in a school. Remember, the Weighted Student Formula is a per-student grant based on the characteristics of a school’s overall student body. So, for example, imagine a school of 100 students that are high-need. Based on the needs of the students, the per-student rate would be very high, but because the school is very small, the overall funds the school gets through the weighted student formula wouldn’t be all that much.

The Concentration Resource is a way of making sure that schools with high percentages of high-need students get more, regardless of size. You can see how it works by studying this spreadsheet, which is also an interesting way of evaluating which schools have the neediest students. To understand the numbers, you’ll also need to understand what “unduplicated students” are: the LCFF establishes higher weights and funding levels for students who fit into one of three categories: qualifying for free/reduced price meals, English Learners, or foster youth. If a student fits into more than one of those categories, the district has to assign them to only one and subtract them from the others. In that way, they are “unduplicated.”

The Concentration Resource is still pretty small — the highest amount schools get through it is $50,000, but that goes a long way for a school with fewer than 200 students. And, it could represent a way to start addressing concerns about the equity of the Weighted Student Formula, which favors larger schools.