Is the Board of Education Listening to the Polls?

by on June 15, 2022

Has the Recall Caused a Shift?

Major items are coming before the Board of Education these next few weeks.

There are 2 meetings dedicated to Lowell admissions. And just this Tuesday Board President Jenny Lam
put forth a proposed Resolution to focus the Board on “student outcomes focused governance.”

Is the Board turning towards nuts and bolts? Hard to know, but such an effort is worthwhile and
past due. The concerns fester and continue to grow.

A recent poll from the San Francisco Standard has the public education leadership at 4% strong approval. This same May poll of 1,048 registered voters had the recently recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin at 8% strong approval, twice as high.

The first big item the Board will take on is Lowell High School admissions, lottery for the last two
years. San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Vincent Matthews, weeks
away from retirement, put forth two proposed Resolutions- the first about the policy for 2023-
2024 school year, and the second proposing a group to work on a plan thereafter.

Board of Education President Jenny Lam has taken them on, with “open hearts and minds” at
upcoming meetings on June 16 and, likely, June 22. Reading from a prepared statement on her
laptop at the May 24 Board Meeting, Lam said, “It is now our responsibility as this Board to
address the matter moving forward. The community expects this from their elected leaders to
take responsibility.”

A recent poll by the San Francisco Standard found 13% of respondents supporting lottery
admission for that high school. That’s one out of eight people polled.

Lowell is both a lightning rod for claims of racial concerns and one of the highest ranked public
schools in the country. US News and World Report just ranked it #6 out of 1,600 California high
schools and #82 out of 24,000 US public high schools.

The effort to have Lowell admissions by lottery in 2021 contributed to the sentiment driving the
recall of 3 Board of Education Commissioners earlier this year. Further, the Resolution calling
for such action was deemed to be in violation of the Brown Act for improper meeting notice.

The District has a whole bunch of problems, many brought forth after the recall and replacement
of 3 of the 7 Board of Education Commissioners. Ongoing teacher payroll problems. Fighting in
middle schools. Parents upset over words from an elementary school principal. Other principals
leaving the district. Lunch not cooked to a healthy temperature.

And then there are the ongoing unaddressed big items. Enrollment dropping with no plan to
bring in new students. Structural deficit with a budget not right sized. Growing pension burdens.
Teacher shortage. Reading and math scores continuing in the wrong direction. A new school assignment system postponed. Too many schools for the number of students. So many questions about facilities spending. Advisory boards not being filled.

The Board Meetings have changed in satisfying ways since the days of former Board President
Gabriela López. After some board governance training arranged by President Lam, meetings
have been more collegial, more focused. Selection of new incoming Superintendent Matt
Wayne had little public disagreement.

Are the changes coming big enough and fast enough? The budget deficit still looms. Student
outcomes from mental health to math performance have no reassuring plan for improvement.
One slide budget proposal Commissioner Matt Alexander is Budget Chair. Head general counsel Danielle Houck, loser of lawsuits, keeps her position.

Now President Lam asks us to have more faith, as she seeks to suspend all the Board Committees for an unstated period. Public comments, limited to five minutes, were skeptical. “If the work isn’t going to be done in committees transparently and accountably, where will it be done? Where can families engage?” asked Alida Fisher, advocacy chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. Teachers union President Cassondra Curiel also shared concerns.

To these questions, President Lam shared a statement, “The board is embarking on redesigning
its work and how we’re building a stronger focus on student outcomes and wellbeing… This is a
temporary step but a necessary one.”

Apparently 5 of 7 Commissioners need to assent to have this proposed Resolution go forward.

Filed under: Labor & Education