Rafael Mandelman is a lawyer who's been involved in progressive politics in the city for years. He's an honest, principled activist respected by people across the political spectrum. He told us he has no illusions about the challenges ahead — or about challenging everyone, including his allies on the board, if that's what it takes to save City College. "Short term," he told us, "it's all bad" — and he has the clear eyes and integrity to make the painful decisions. In a bitterly divided board, he may be something of a peacemaker, since nobody on any side doubts his intentions.
Steven Ngo, a civil rights lawyer, has been an exceptional board member, someone who respects and supports the district's broad mission but has no illusions about the financial problems. He's been complaining for years about the lack of centralized accounting systems, about the district's lack of control over employee health spending — and about absenteeism among some board members, which has been a serious problem. He's talking about fixing the basic problems first, including a system of internal governance that is so diffuse it often seems nobody knows who's in charge.
Amy Bacharach, a policy researcher for the state court system, knows the value of education — she went from high school dropout to Ph.D. in 20 years. She agrees that the district shouldn't abandon its commitment to adult education, ESL, and non-credit classes, but also agrees with WASC that the governance system is far too loose and that the board needs to centralize decision-making. She has progressive values and a clear head for what needs to be done, and would be a strong ally for Jackson, Mandelman and Ngo.
We also liked William Walker, the current student trustee, who has lots of great ideas and knows more about the district than almost anyone but as a student with a job and a role on the board, he isn't running much of an effective campaign; he has a future in local politics, and ought to run again in two years when he has less on his table. Hanna Leung offered some solid ideas and was also a strong candidate.
But right now, in this race, at this time, we're backing Jackson, Ngo, Mandelman, and Bacharach.
BOARD OF EDUCATION
It's safe to say that nobody else in town is endorsing this particular slate of candidates. But it reflects our complicated and nuanced perspective on the state of the San Francisco public schools.
It's important — critically important — to recognize that the local schools have improved dramatically over the past few years. When you see the actual data, it's almost a miracle — at a time when the district has lost almost 20 percent of its state funding, when schools are begging parents to donate pencils and paper because there aren't enough basic supplies to make it through the year, student achievement is up by almost metric. SFUSD is the best performing large urban district in California. There are more good schools and fewer failures. Test scores continue to creep upward. The racial achievement gap, while still unacceptable, is narrowing. Enrollment at the elementary level, once in sharp decline, is growing as faith in the schools improves.
The administration of outgoing Superintendent Carlos Garcia was refreshingly open; the gag orders and repressive programs of his predecessor, Arlene Ackerman, are gone. Garcia's anointed successor, Richard Carranza, is following the same track. And the often fractious board is working together remarkably well.