More on Chan, Ackerman and School Politics

by on September 14, 2005

(Ed note: The author of this very cogent analysis requested anonymity. This was a response to our Tuesday piece on Gwen Chan, and raises important issues surrounding the choice of a new Superintendent)

Media coverage of local public education is totally neglected. The dailies skirt the real issues by focusing on three narratives written over and over again: Ackerman raises test scores (but don’t look too closely at who is doing well and who isn’t or how such results can be manipulated); the BOE split & Green Party nemesis; “Dream Schools.” Nothing else gets any attention from Heather Knight or Bonnie Elsinger of the Examiner. For my bias, I would like to learn more about who is actually out there before a decision on the new superintendent is made.

Ackerman’s allies in the press, aided in print by supporter Jill Wynns, like to say that the BOE is “too divisive” and no one can stand the political pressures of SF. They make these assertions confidently even before the process of hiring a new superintendent has begun. In fairness, there aren’t that many positions in the education field that pay $250K per year, plus $24K in housing subsidies and lifetime health benefits after 5 years. Most people would love to live in San Francisco, it’s the high cost of this place that keeps people away. That is a healthy compensation package by any standard, probably even enough for most folks to be able pick up the telephone and call Aaron Peskin or Mark Sanchez.

Beyond Chron could be extremely helpful on this question. It is not clear exactly when Ackerman leaves. She said that she will stick around through June 2006. This is not necessary. Frankly if you want Gwenn Chan it would be a good idea to move Ackerman out now so that people can see how Chan does as the interim. If she does well it would help her odds. She is the Deputy Superintendent, I believe. When Chan was given this appointment it was presented at the time in terms that if Ackerman should leave, this is the person who would take over day to day management of the district. I strongly believe it is in the SFUSD’s core interest to begin that process now and not wait until June 30, 2006

The Examiner and Chronicle have been shameless propagandists for Arlene Ackerman. To their credit City voters saw through the smokescreen. If Ackerman had any respect for what public votes mean she would have quit after the November 2004 election because that is what the voters were saying when they rejected the candidacies of Heather Hiles, David Weiner and Coach Kane. Instead she stuck around to complain about commissioners city voters chose to re-elect, the daily press even gave her a pass for quoting Richard Nixon about how she represents the “silent majority.” As late as August during the budget discussions over Prop H money, Jill Wynns, Margaret Brodkin , Gavin Newsom and Tom Ammiano were doing everything they could to prop Ackerman up.

Just as an observer of the politics of the SFUSD, Ackerman has not shown any leadership or direction on these fronts: a) the consent decree, the district has basically punted and put off a decision for 18 more months by getting all the parties to the case to agree to an extension but the core issues are alive. In my opinion this is a cop out because it directly effects the “reconstitution” debate and UESF relations;

b) the district can not afford to pay its employees more money (its teachers have not had a pay raise in 3 years, clerical workers in 4 years) until there is a new source of revenue, district backers want to pass a parcel tax but that requires a 2/3 vote which will be difficult to pass given the negative background noise Arlene Ackerman and the downtown press have created and can continue to generate (Jack Davis’ new SF Taxpayers Union which is likely to kill off Proposition A this November makes this task even more daunting even without the negative buzz Ackerman can create). The other factor on the parcel tax front is that west side, middle class Chinese parents who feel their kids have no chance to attend a “neighborhood school” could kill off a parcel tax. If they have to pay for private school why should they sign up to a new property tax?

c) No new educational reforms for underachieving schools and students since reconstitution was launched in the 1983 Consent Decree. Ackerman dressed it up reconstitution as “Dream Schools” by calling for a longer school day and student uniforms, but in essence it is reconstitution and other educational reform models out there for urban school districts are ignored by the Chronicle and the Examiner. For example, the “small schools” iniative in NYC even the NY Times gave 5 days of print coverage too last month. Sanchez proposed an initiative along these lines in 2004 (“Leftist” Bloomberg likes this concept) and was denounced as a Green Party, left wing heretic in the dailies because Ac kerman did not like the idea — probably because it came from Mark.

In short there are many very tough issues that have to be sorted through at the SFUSD, and having a lame duck superintendent there for 9 more months is a luxury the district simply can not afford. There are just too many important decisions looming for the local public school system to have everything be on hold for a year.

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