Election Day is just around the corner, so it’s time for public education activists to take a moment to think about the ballot and what our choices might mean for our kids and our schools.
Focusing on the people first, while there are no Board of Education seats open, we will be filling three critical spots in our City – the Mayor, the District Attorney, and the Sheriff. All of these races are highly contested
and schools are happily on the minds of many of the candidates. While the individuals holding these offices do not have direct involvement with the governance and operations of our schools, they still have a huge impact. This is especially true of the Mayor, who is in a unique and powerful position to raise the profile of our schools – and hopefully help to dispel many of the inaccuracies that still persist – and who has control in and influence over the allocation of so many City resources that can be made available to our schools. This combination of influence over perceptions and resources can tip the scales either way in these challenging times.
In terms of resources, the City has made huge contributions in at least four key areas. The first is the Public Education and Enrichment Fund (PEEF, formally known as “Prop. H”), which is the source of funding for sports, libraries, art and music, in addition to providing support for universal preschool and a third chunk of funds that can be designated for various public school purposes each year. PEEF has been in place since 2004 and has made dramatic differences in the availability of these core but inadequately funded school offerings. It is up for renewal in 2014 and having elected officials champion it, especially the Mayor, will be essential for its passage.
Another crucial piece for our schools has been the Rainy Day Fund, which has been tapped several years in a row now to stave off high numbers of teacher layoffs. While helping schools is a formal part of the fund’s structure, there is enough discretion, (or ambiguity, depending on how you look at it) in whether or not those monies are released, that having a mayor who feels personally committed to do all that can be done to keep our schools running at the highest possible level is critical.
The next huge area of impact is with the City’s Department of Children, Youth and Their Families
(DCYF). As part of its incredible suite of activities, DCYF has many programs, services and partnerships directly benefiting school children. From after school care to providing financial support to community organizations working with children, the leadership and direction of this City department make a big difference in the daily educational experience of our kids.
Finally, the Mayor is in an unparalleled position to be a champion for schools. He can foster a climate of partnership between the City and the school district in an even deeper way and can promote public school awareness and enrollment in settings as varied as department meetings to conversations with business and organization leaders. In addition to being a passionate promoter, our mayor could also inhabit the role of advocate, actively working with other mayors and district superintendents across the state – and the country -- to challenge the structural underfunding of our schools and the highly problematic education policy measures that are impeding educational advancement as opposed to fostering it.
These areas, in addition to the many other touch points between our schools and the City, offer a great backdrop for comparing the various contenders for office. A candidate forum
specifically focusing on education and other family issues will be taking place Tuesday October 11th from 6:30 to 8:30 at Sherith Israel (2266 California Street). Child care and interpretation will be provided. Attendees are ask to RSVP to Oct11CandidatesForum@gmail.com
As attention getting as they may be, the candidates aren’t the only thing to consider in this election; we’ve got two ballot propositions
focused on schools as well. The first is Proposition A
, which is the last of the facilities bond measures required to bring the remaining schools up to safety standards. Schools have been repaired in order of severity of need, and now we’re down to the last chunk of just over 50 sites
. Passing this last bond measure is critical for making sure that all of our kids, everywhere across the City, in all grade levels, in all programs are in safe, modern buildings.
The second proposition is Proposition H, or the “Quality Neighborhood Schools for All
” policy measure, that attempts to prioritize neighborhood school assignment. This is a perennial favorite that this time around is even more baffling than ever, since the school district has just gone through a major assignment redesign
that in fact does provide more weight to place of residence, though it’s not the only, or even primary, factor. Proposition H is full of contradictions, declaring in one point that a student’s neighborhood should be essentially the only piece of data used to make an assignment, then asserting in the next point that all families should have the opportunity to attend schools city wide that have unique programs. These two items just can’t go together and is just one example of why we have so many variables that come into play in assigning students to schools.
This November 8th ballot presents a relatively small number of decisions for voters to consider from a public education vantage point, but they are important ones nonetheless.
Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco and the PTA.