Tag Archives: legislation

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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SB 955 represents radical change to state’s teacher policies

Everywhere I look these days, there is another bill on teacher seniority and evaluation. New York’s legislature is considering a bill that would gut seniority provisions in that state’s education code, and I just saw another article on a big fight brewing in Colorado over teacher evaluation and tenure. (Arizona banned seniority entirely last year, but then again, that’s Arizona for you). California’s foray into this discussion comes in the form of SB 955, a bill introduced by Republican Bob Huff of southern California. The California Teachers Association and other labor groups adamantly oppose the bill, which is supported by Governor Schwarzenegger, the California Charter Schools Association and Education Trust-West. It narrowly passed out of the Senate Education Committee (5-4) last week.

At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Commissioners will hear an analysis of SB 955, and consider which alternatives to this bill, if any, the district might support. As a practical matter, SB 955 is highly unlikely to pass in its current form in our overwhelmingly Democratic legislature — as an “urgency” statute, it requires a 2/3 vote. Still, it’s clear that there is political traction for California to weigh in on the national conversation happening on teacher seniority and evaluation, and I’m told that an alternative bill is likely to be introduced by a Democratic sponsor. If that happens, it will be important for the Board to have a position on what provisions should be included or dropped.

Here are key provisions in SB 955:

  • It would change the notification timeline for teacher layoffs. Currently, districts must issue a March 15 “intent to lay off” notice, and then a permanent notice on May 15. Even if an employee receives a permanent notice, the district can later call them back, but the danger is always that some staff will accept other employment before that happens. The other problem is that late state budgets extend the school district’s uncertainty about our own budget until well after March 15. This bill would eliminate the need for a March 15 notice, which I actually think is a good idea — I think it saves employees from needless stress in years (unlike this one) where budget uncertainties led us to issue far more March 15 notices than were ultimately needed.
  • The bill would allow districts more flexibility in determining the order of layoff based on need and evaluation and allowing entire sites to be skipped. I think this goes too far in gutting the seniority system but it would be great to have some ability to limit the effect layoffs have on the hard-to-staff schools — it’s crazy to have two-thirds of the staff at a school facing layoff at the same time.
  • The bill would also grant school districts wide latitude in assigning or transferring teachers to sites based on effectiveness and subject matter need rather than seniority.
  • The rights of teachers to ask for hearings after dismissals or layoffs would be curtailed,  along with changes to other provisions concerning those hearings.

I have to say that gutting the seniority system is a solution in search of a problem. Giving senior teachers more job security isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, as long as we are regularly evaluating and adequately supporting those teachers.  I do think it’s a good idea to re-examine the timelines for notifying staff of layoffs, in order to better align those timelines with our budget process.  Finally, I’m sympathetic to the plight of junior teachers at hard-to-staff schools and would welcome the ability to introduce some safeguards to staff who want to work at such schools, but I continue to think the best solution would be to address the challenging conditions at these schools so that they aren’t so hard to fill in the first place.   Last week, Deputy Superintendent Carranza proposed a “clustering” system for district resources that seems like a good step in that direction.

Simitian introduces Kindergarten readiness bill

Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has introduced a bill that would move back the state’s cutoff for Kindergarten readiness — a move recommended by policy experts.  Currently, students must turn five by December 2nd of the year they enter Kindergarten;  Simitian’s bill would move that date back to Sept. 1.  The change would be phased in over three years starting in 2012.

“Today´s kindergarten classroom is a much different place than most of us experienced,” said Simitian. “We´re placing real academic demands on our kids, and the youngest are struggling to keep up. The evidence shows that giving these younger kindergarteners an extra year can make a big difference in their long term success.”

In addition to benefiting children, Simitian´s bill would also save the State an estimated $700 million dollars in annual education spending due to the reduced student population. The cumulative savings over 13 years would reach $9.1 billion.

Obama set to overhaul NCLB – NY Times

The lead story in this morning’s New York Times is a peek at the Obama Administration’s plans for NCLB (No Child Left Behind, now re-christened ESEA — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). First passed with great bipartisan fanfare by the Bush Administration in 2000, NCLB sought to focus attention on achievement gaps between different groups, and require all schools across the country to close those gaps by 2014.

Well, here it is a decade later, and we’ve certainly focused on achievement gaps in the past decade, but the goal of bringing all children to proficiency still seems far off. In the meantime, the law has labeled thousands of schools as “in need of improvement,” and come under a great deal of fire for being all stick and no carrot (because it set penalties for failing to reach “adequate yearly progress” but offered few additional resources to help schools get there).

So it comes as a relief that, according to the Times report, the Administration seems willing to abandon the 2014 deadline, as well as other provisions:

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Rules, Legislation & Policy: May 5

I spent Cinco de Mayo chairing the May meeting of the Rules, Policy and Legislation committee, which was augmented (an “augmented” meeting means that all board members are invited and may speak but not vote. If a committee meeting is not augmented, members may attend as members of the public but may not participate other than giving public comment if they so choose). First up:

  • Positions on legislation. It is a long-standing practice of this committee to take positions on bills on behalf of the full board; members can request a hearing and vote by the full board if they so choose. The reason we do this is that there are tens of bills introduced every session of interest to our schools, and having the full board consider each of these bills at every meeting would eat up a great deal of time. As a result, over a decade ago Board members agreed to put consideration of legislation under the charge of the Rules, Policy and Legislation Committee, so that the district’s position on bills can be communicated more efficiently and effectively to legislators. I am glad to be chairing this commitee, as it seems many of the bills we consider have to do with special education. Last night was no exception — the staff recommended a “disapprove” position on a bill authored by Fiona Ma that would prohibit teachers and other staff from using physical restraints on students with disabilities. Because I am philosophically opposed to the use of physical restraint, I disagreed with the staff position and asked for more information.  Here are the recommended staff positions on all bills we considered last night; the commitee ratified all of them except for AB 1538, the physical restraint bill.
  • We forwarded the Superintendent’s implementation plan for A-G graduation requirements to the full Board with a positive recommendation, though I do remain concerned that there was not enough participation by special education staff on the study team, and that the current draft of the plan minimizes the cultural and curriculum shift that will need to happen for our students in self-contained classrooms to meet A-G requirements;
  • We forwarded Commissioners Yee and Fewer’s resolution on parent engagement to the full Board with a few cosmetic amendments and a positive recommendation;
  • We heard informational items on our coming stimulus money, a draft of legislative principles that will be passed by the committee in the Fall, and a discussion by legal counsel on the possibilities for a more focused district-wide fundraising policy.