Tag Archives: meetings

Recap: Sept. 11 Board Meeting

Several Board members had other commitments tonight so the meeting was unusually short, adjourning at 7:05 p.m.  However, there were a few items of note:

  • In his “thoughts for the evening,” Superintendent Carranza announced that he will be withdrawing the staff proposal to eliminate the middle school grades at International Studies Academy (ISA) on Potrero Hill (currently a 6-12 school). Originally introduced at the August 28 Board meeting, the proposal would have kept ISA a high school and fed students from Daniel Webster and Bryant MS to Everett MS instead of ISA as originally proposed .  However, the Webster community continues to advocate for a K-8 facility on Potrero Hill, and the Everett community has expressed concern about the capacity of the school to absorb students from two additional elementary schools. In addition, there are transportation issues and our demographic trends indicate a need for more middle school seats and fewer high school seats.  I suspect the withdrawal of this proposal will be a mixed bag for Webster families who have been watching this news closely — on the one hand it keeps the K-8 idea alive, but on the other hand means the issue will not be resolved until next spring. At the Sept. 18 Committee of the Whole, the staff will lay out some of the unresolved issues and questions around the Webster/Bryant/ISA/MS feeder/HS capacity issues and attempt to explain why this is a complex decision with a lot of moving parts. The plan is to return to the Board with a revised recommendation sometime in the spring.
  • Several families from New Traditions spoke during public comment to express dismay with the actions of a teacher at their school. These kinds of situations are so difficult because no one — staff or Board members alike — can explain what steps have or have not been taken and why or why not.  These are personnel matters and like all employees, teachers have due process and privacy rights.  As  I’m writing this, I’m watching an ABC-7 News report on alleged mistreatment of special education students in another district — and while the allegations make my blood boil, I feel some sympathy for the Board members because they cannot comment or take any kind of public action without opening up their school district to a serious liability. Hopefully, they are taking action behind the scenes, just as I’ll be following up on our own issue with staff.
  • We  also heard an update on a great partnership with UCSF that pairs interested high school students with working scientists and gives them experience working in research labs for the summer. Wallenberg HS  senior Chelsea Stewart wowed the Board and staff in presenting her research into an autoimmune disorder causing degeneration of the optic nerve. Ms. Stewart says the experience taught her a great deal and underscored her determination to go to college. One of my favorite parts was when UCSF administrator of the program, Katherine Nielsen, said that after participating in the program, students said they were surprised to find that there were UCSF scientists who were women and/or people of color, and that “scientists were nice.” Since I am surrounded by scientists in my immediate and extended family, I’m all in favor of a program that reminds us that scientists can actually be very nice people but I’m particularly glad to see that we are encouraging more girls and people of color to enter the field as well.
  • The Board approved a resolution in support of No Texting While Driving Pledge Day on Sept. 19. Apparently, 43 percent of teens admit they have sent text messages while driving even though 97 percent say they know it is dangerous and illegal. Students (and adults too!)  are asked to take the pledge not to text and drive.
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Recap: August 23 regular Board meeting

Tonight’s meeting was largely routine, with the following discussions of note:

  • The Board passed a resolution reconsidering parts of the legislation passed in June that extended the time for JROTC instructors to attain the necessary credentials to allow them to supervise the P.E. Independent Study program created by the Board in 2009.  The June resolution specified that any instructors hired into the program would have to have a P.E. credential, but failed to account for several candidates already in the hiring pipeline. Tonight’s action allows us to hire these new candidates (provided they can be funded with private money and enroll within a P.E. internship program within six months of their hire date, among other requirements).
  • The Board heard reports from our District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) and the committee appointed to oversee the Quality Teaching and Education Act (QTEA, otherwise known as “Prop A” or the district’s parcel tax passed in June 2008).  The DELAC presenters chiefly recommended that principals receive more training in administering English Learner Advisory Committees (ELACs) at their sites, and that the district provide more funding to the School/Family Partnership office, which administers the parent engagement policy passed by the Board in 2009. The QTEA Oversight Committee was established in the 2008 ballot initiative that initiated the parcel tax, but was not fully appointed until 2010.  Committee members expressed some doubts about the district’s decision to reduce spending on some stipends for hard-to-fill areas and hard-to-staff schools during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, but acknowledged that they were not involved in those decisions because the oversight committee had not yet been convened. Going forward, committee members pledged to make reports to the Board twice a year, providing expenditure reports and evaluating the effectiveness of the initiative in the stated goals of retaining and recruiting quality teachers for the school district.
  • The Board voted to terminate two defined-contribution retirement programs established for district paraprofessionals several decades ago, citing a failure of those programs to meet the needs of our employees. Instead, new employees and existing employees under the age of 55 will be enrolled in Social Security, which will provide them with a more secure income source in retirement.  Paraprofessionals who are older than 55 (who may need to retire before they can accumulate the 40 quarters of Social Security participation required for lifetime benefits) will be offered the option of a 403(b) account.  Administration and union officials alike expressed relief that this difficult situation for employees has been largely resolved through this negotiated settlement (except, it should be noted, for those employees with less than four hours a day of work, who are excluded from the above settlement and will no longer have a defined-contribution retirement plan as part of their district employment).
  • The Board discussed, and ultimately approved, several large contracts for Swun Math destined for the Superintendent’s Zone (Revere, Carver and Bret Harte).  I haven’t seen a lesson yet, but the program gets strong reviews, and math is a major focus this year district-wide. The Curriculum and Program Committee will examine Swun Math and other math curricula in use in the district at the September meeting (date TBA).

Mark your calendars: upcoming SFUSD meetings and events

The next two meetings of the Ad Hoc meeting on student assignment will be of interest to folks who are concerned about the new transportation policy and/or the middle school assignment policy for 2012-13 and beyond.

Tomorrow night’s agenda features a staff presentation on the new transportation policy — a substitute motion will be introduced to the Board incorporating earlier feedback; in addition Parents for Public Schools and the Parent Advisory Council will present plans for a large-scale community engagement effort around the middle school feeder patterns.

Additionally, I’m told that at the January meeting of the Ad Hoc committee (not yet scheduled but usually the 2nd Monday of the month) we will be presented with more information on the planning for middle school feeder patterns.  More information when it is available.

Finally, the installation (swearing in) of Board members elected (and re-elected) last month will occur on Friday, Jan. 7, at Tenderloin Community School, starting at 6 p.m. The public is cordially invited.

Recap: Speedy meeting is not without controversy

Tonight’s agenda was straightforward without much in the way of Board business or debate. The Board unanimously passed Commissioner Fewer’s resolution recommitting the district to its pledge to keep student information safe from military recruiters and the Joint Advertising Market Research Studies (JAMRS) database they access.  Oakland Unified and Berkeley Unified have recently passed similar resolutions.

But a simmering controversy over the district’s pension offerings for paraprofessionals has boiled over in recent days and several dozen paraprofessionals and teachers rallied before the Board meeting to demand that the district address the problems with their retirement plan. Essentially, and without revealing the substance of continuing, confidential negotiations between UESF and the district, SFUSD and UESF negotiated an agreement in 1992 that took paraprofessionals out of Social Security and put them in a private retirement plan. Though UESF agreed to this plan and its members ratified that agreement, it is now apparent to everyone that our employees would have been better off had they stayed in Social Security. However, there are different opinions about how to address this wrong, what the district’s legal liability is, and even about whether our employees themselves might bear some future liability. In short, it’s a mess, but one that involves the real lives and futures of valued SFUSD employees.

Recap: Board passes another milestone

Tonight the Board passed another milestone in the years-long effort to update our district’s student assignment system — adopting updated assignment area boundaries for elementary schools and an interim citywide choice plan for middle school enrollment (feeder patterns to allow students to move from elementary schools to specific middle school placements will be put in place for 2012-13 enrollment).

Boundaries are probably one of the most contentious parts of the effort, and I think the staff deserves some credit for managing this piece with a minimum (but not a total absence) of uproar. (Not so much on the middle school patterns. But you could argue, and some have, that the district listened to the very real objections raised by families and agreed to delay this part of the effort. So we may still get more uproar before the redesign is fully implemented.) Anyway, there was only the barest amount of public comment — one person thought we should introduce a “buffer zone” preference (after CTIP, preschool and attendance area) to people who live near an attendance area but not in it; then two members of the public showed up after we had already voted to urge us to delay middle school feeder patterns. No problem!

During public comment, staff and families from Moscone Elementary and Thurgood Marshall Academic High School came to protest cuts in their budgets resulting from lower-than-projected enrollment.  Some of Thurgood’s concerns have apparently been addressed by the Bayview Superintendent’s Zone supervisor, Assistant Superintendent Patricia Gray. But the Moscone community is outraged over the loss of a $37,000 half-time Reading Recovery teacher and other funding — a total cut of $46,000. Moscone is a very high-achieving school despite its mostly low-income and English Learner population, and for the parents’ and teachers’ hard work to be rewarded by budget cuts (because of a seven-student drop in enrollment) is hard to swallow. And yeah, it was galling that even after hearing the Moscone pleas, five members of the Board voted for a $250,000 professional development contract ($125,000 of which will be paid out of precious unrestricted funds). I’ve written about NUA before and I am not going to belabor the point, but I do think it shows questionable priorities to continue to fund a pricey program with mixed reviews that was originally parceled out to schools in a very haphazard and non-strategic way, when at the same time you have successful schools coming to Board meetings begging to just keep the status quo. 

The Board also had its annual hearing on whether students are being supplied with sufficient textbooks and curriculum materials at all of our schools — last year we did pretty well but this year’s figures are terrible. There are a lot of schools that began the year without enough textbooks, and the Board asked for a full accounting of why this is (we have until the middle of next month to have adequate supplies and staff assured the Board we will make that deadline).

Anyway, it appears that there are a lot of reasons for this year’s inadequate supplies. For one thing, high schools have more new classes due to the new A-G graduation requirements, and therefore had to order more new books; in some cases sites may not have put those orders in early enough or may have underestimated demand. Also, the state’s decision last summer to delay textbook adoptions to save money has had some unintendend consequences. Generally, textbooks are on a seven-year adoption cycle, so that texts are replaced before they become too old to be unusable. Textbook publishers plan for adoption cycles and stop printing books that are near the end of the cycle, which can lead to shortages for older texts. Since California has delayed adoption of some textbooks, districts are needing to replace old and damaged books and finding them in shorter supply than usual.  Still, whatever the reasons — our students need books and it’s unacceptable for them to go without. The Superintendent has appointed a new manager to oversee the textbook inventory and ordering systems, and Board members will hear a post-mortem on this year’s systems breakdown sometime later this Fall.

Finally: the Board passed a resolution in support of Prop. D, which would allow non-citizens with children attending San Francisco public schools to vote in school board elections.

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.

Saving the best for first: meeting recap

Tonight’s meeting started out great, and went downhill from there. First up: a unanimous vote in favor of a resolution to finally name School of the Arts after renowned artist, arts advocate and local treasure Ruth Asawa. Even Commissioner Wynns cried, and that takes some doing. It was a sweet moment.

Second: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Kim on establishing an Ethnic Studies course in every San Francisco high school.  The program would pilot at up to five high schools in 2010-11 and expand district wide in 2011-12. There are some very good reasons for implementing/expanding an Ethnic Studies program: for one thing, we need a 9th grade social studies course that will help prepare students for World History in the 10th grade. Second, students are clearly enthusiastic about the course, judging from the crowd that came out in support of the Fewer/Kim resolution — and increasing student engagement is a major goal for the Board. Third, SF State has offered our students college credit for passing the course, and significant help in getting the course started in SFUSD.  Still, I do have a few personal reservations about Ethnic Studies as a discipline. An email I received tonight from an administrator (a person who is committed to social justice and not at all a reactionary person) sums it up:

 ALL history classes should be reflective of the students’ history in the classroom. The danger with ethnic studies is that it takes everyone else off the hook. We should offer ethnic studies AND do a better job of integrating ethnic studies into everything else.

Commissioner Kim spoke eloquently tonight about being a product of Ethnic Studies, and movingly about discovering the words of Malcolm X and other great leaders and people of color.  I agree, it’s thrilling to read about people who have triumphed over oppression and led others out of oppression as well.  In my U.S. History courses, I learned about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass, about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and about the oppression of Chinese-Americans even as they helped build California and other western states.  I learned about Navajo culture and about the Trail of Tears, and about American imperialism around the Pacific Rim and in Central America.  That history is all of our history, not isolated histories of isolated peoples. I hope we are not letting history off the hook or dividing the discipline into Ours and Theirs.

Anyway, I was a little taken aback when I was hissed by the crowd for simply asking how likely it was for an Ethnic Studies class to be approved by the UC system as meeting the UC system’s A-G requirements for entry (and graduation from SFUSD). This is not an idle question — we’ve tried several times without luck to have the class approved, and the resolution calls for the course to meet the “G” requirement.  In my question, I think I expressed clearly that I was OK with going ahead with a pilot, but that I was concerned about implementing the course district-wide without approval from UC that the course could meet A-G. Luckily, there was a UC representative in attendance who assured us that we could make the course meet A-G by introducing a co-requisite, like English or some other core course, to be taken concurrently with 9th grade ethnic studies.  Anyway, it’s fine to come to a Board meeting with a strong opinion, but it’s bad manners to hiss someone for asking a tough question.

The other issue for me was the budget, but the Budget Committee did a good job of coming up with a compromise that everyone could live with, so my concerns there were put to rest. Still, this is about $220,000 in new spending, and yes, we’ll have to cut something else to put it in place.  Final vote: 7-0.

Next up: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer, Kim and Maufas about expanding access to AP courses across the district. Now, this is a concept I strongly endorse. At CUBE last summer, several districts that are bigger, more diverse and lower-scoring than ours presented strong evidence that the challenges and academic rigor inherent in AP courses are very motivating and energizing for students, even when students don’t score well enough on the AP tests to earn college credit. The challenge and the rigor in and of themselves have a big motivating effect, and a positive effect on future achievement.  But–we’re in the middle of a budget crisis, and we can’t afford to do everything we know is right and beneficial for students. In the end, the authors amended the resolution to state the expansion of AP as a major priority for the Board, and directing the Superintendent to work on the issue, acknowledging our current budget constraints. Final vote: 7-0.

Then came the real fun of the evening: voting to authorize the district to issue layoff notices to hundreds of teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals. Members of UESF waited for hours during the earlier action items to argue in front of the Board that the district has not met its burden of proof, that we don’t have to issue layoff notices to paraprofessionals until April (certificated employees like teachers and principals must be notified by March 15, while paraprofessionals and other classified employees must be notified in late April– 45 days before the layoff date of June 30), and that the budget numbers are based on projections that may or may not come true.  I hate having to look our unions in the eye and vote the other way, and yet I don’t see that we have any choice at all. The budget is only going to get worse in the next six months, and while its true that we don’t have to issue paraprofessional layoff notices until April, I’m not sure what the point of waiting would be. Wouldn’t you rather know now that you’re getting a pink slip, rather than waiting until April to find out? Hopefully, we’ll be able to rescind at least some of the pink slips, but not nearly as many as we’ve been able to rescind in past years.  Pardon my language, but it sucks. Final vote: Authorizing paraprofessional layoffs 5-2 (Maufas and Kim voting no);  Authorizing teacher/administrator layoffs 6-1 (Maufas voting no).