School board race shouldn't be personal

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The backroom anti-Brodkin campaign has to stop

EDITORIAL There are plenty of issues to talk about in the San Francisco School Board race. The new student assignment process marks a dramatic shift in the way parents and kids get to choose schools. The district's decision to pursue federal Race to the Top money was a mistake. There are too many charter schools, and not enough money for basic programs. The district has made great strides in closing the achievement gap, but there's more to do. Many school facilities still need upgrades, meaning — potentially — more bond acts. The austerity budget has meant teacher layoffs. Overall, the district is in better shape than it was five years ago, but the goal of quality education for all kids is still a long way off.

This is what candidates and interest groups ought to be talking about. Instead, it seems as if the entire race is about one candidate: Margaret Brodkin.

Brodkin, the former director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth and former head of the Mayor's Office of Children, Youth, and Families is by all accounts among the most experienced people ever to run for the office. She's also strong-willed, forceful, and sometimes difficult. That's what's made her such a successful advocate. Over the past 30 years, she's been involved in almost every progressive cause involving children and youth in the city, from the creation of the Children's Fund to the battle against privatization in the public schools.

You think she'd at least be considered a serious candidate and that elected officials and political groups would give her the respect she deserves as someone who has devoted her life to activism on behalf of children.

But some incumbent board members have been engaged in a full-scale, anti-Brodkin campaign the likes of which we've rarely seen, even in the rough and sometimes brutal politics of this city. It's mostly quiet, backroom stuff — and as far as we can tell, it's not about issues. But they've approached just about everyone in local politics to badmouth Brodkin.

Let us stipulate: there are issues, real issues, progressives can disagree on with Brodkin. We've fought with her ourselves over some of the programs she implemented when she worked in the Newsom administration. Brodkin was far too supportive of former school superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who was secretive and imperious, for far too long. She's also a close ally of board member Jill Wynns, who was wrong on a lot of issues over the past few years.

Brodkin has extensive proposals about education reform that she has discussed over and over; if you don't like them, then don't vote for her. If you think her proposals would be bad for the kids in the public schools — and in the end, that's what this is all about — then work to elect somebody else. That's how politics works.

But the misleading whisper campaign annoys us, and is often based on inaccurate information. Brodkin, we've been told, opposed voting rights for noncitizens back in 2004. Not true — she personally wrote a ballot argument in favor of the law. She told us, for the record, on tape, that she disagrees with Wynns and opposes JROTC in the public schools.

There's also the line (and it's somewhat reminiscent of some of things that were said about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign) that she's hard to get along with, that she won't be collegial on the board. At her campaign kickoff, incumbent Hydra Mendoza praised the lack of conflict on the current board and said she wanted to preserve that — the implication being that Brodkin would bring disunity.

But unanimity and lack of conflict isn't always good for a public board. Too much consensus leads to complacency — and that's always a big problem, particularly when it comes to oversight.

We'll issue our endorsements Oct. 6, when we've had a chance to talk to all the candidates — and right now we're not ready to give the nod to Brodkin or anyone else. And we'd be the first to say that she has made mistakes and they ought to be taken into account in any endorsement process.

But we don't like personal attacks, and we don't like the politics of personal destruction. It's not good for the schools, not good for democracy, not good for San Francisco. Argue issues, debate public problems — but this nasty whisper campaign has to stop.

Comments

Let's name names about who's spreading this crap, please -- Sandra Fewer and Hydra Mendoza.

Posted by CarolineSF on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

Unless it is the SF Bay Guardian who is making the personal attacks on PG&E employees, Gavin Newsom the list is pretty endless.

As for SF USD I have little respect for it as an institution since they pretty much stuck their fingers up at my family.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

Bruce, Can you provide information regarding which ballot Margaret wrote her argument in favor of 2004's Prop F? I was intrigued by that point and wanted to find out who was the author that wrote in favor of prop F on the ballot circulated by the DOE for the November 2004 election. My research of DOE archives shows that the following Supervisors, Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, Bevan Dufty, Matt Gonzalez, Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin and Gerardo Sandoval wrote the ballot argument in favor of prop F in 04. Coleman Advocates is listed as one of the groups writing the rebuttal to the opponent's argument of prop F, but my recollection is that Margaret was already the head of DCYF by the time ballot arguments were written for the November 2004 ballot.

Posted by Guest Glenn on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

If Hydra Mendoza is really doing what you say, then Hydra's lost my vote for Board of Education. The same people who would vote for Margaret are the ones who supported Hydra, last time, but we won't any longer, after this.
Disappointing.

Posted by Public School parent on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

NOBODY has done more for the children of San Francisco than Margaret Brodkin. She has INTEGRITY, ENERGY, HONESTY AND FOCUS, and that's something we could use a lot more of on the Board of Education.

Posted by Katy on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

Hahahahahaha!!

What a load of bullshit. Everything The Guardian writes is predicated on its own narrow, parochial viewpoint. This is clearly an attack on the neighborhood schools initiative and like most Guardian-supported causes it's doomed to eventual failure.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

Better watch out Bruce; Hydra and Sandra will turn their attack dogs on you next. And you can forget about sitting at the cool kids table with them!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

The teachers' and paraprofessionals' union, UESF, is supporting Kim-Shree Maufas, Hydra Mendoza, and Emily Murase for the school board. (For the record, none of them has engaged in bad-mouthing another candidate to us.) Our members interviewed all of them and voted to support the individuals whom they felt could best carry forward the work of supporting our students and employees.

A couple of the candidates who are not mentioned among our endorsed trio are honorable and respectable women who did not interview well and did not convince our voters of their involvement with the schools--although everyone had an interest in children. One spoke of policy experience but failed to identify any school issue in which she had been involved. A second one pled her ignorance of important issues that were raised as questions.

So, avoid gossip from all sides and listen to your teachers: Maufas, Mendoza, Murase.

Posted by Guest Dennis Kelly on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

Dennis Kelley is close to being correct about who to support for BOE: Mendoza, Murase, and Brodkin.
I am shocked that UESF would risk its reputation by backing Kim-Shree Maufas. Ms. Maufas has repeatedly used SFUSD credit cards for personal expenses. Recently, a complaint has been filed against her by a SFUSD employee that she has driven the "BOE automobile" for personal use. And Ms. Maufas has been accused of taking money out of another Commissioner's pocketbook.
Let's be clear. UESF's endorsement of Ms. Maufas is based on one shameful and meaningless vote cast by Ms. Maufas, her lone no vote on the SFUSD budget last year.
After a year of struggling to work through a $113 million budget deficit, the BOE voted 6-1 to pass a difficult budget. After it was clear the budget would pass, Ms. Maufas made a political calculation that UESF would support her, if she voted against the budget. After a year of discussion, Ms. Maufas offered no alternatives on how to close the $113 million deficit. She simply pandered to UESF.
It is the worst kept secret in San Francisco that Dennis Kelley refers to Ms. Maufas by saying "She is a crook, but at least she is our crook."
Shame on Dennis Kelley and UESF

Posted by SF PARENT on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 5:15 am

I agree, I've lost all respect for the Union. All the teachers I know don't support the UESF picks, they especially are sickened that UESF would back Maufas.

Posted by Public School Parent on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 5:47 am

Show your contempt for UESF's picks by voting for none of them!

Posted by Public School Parent on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 5:58 am

Thanks for posting the UESF recommendations. Now I know who NOT to vote for. The union consistently opposes any kind of merit pay or incentives that would lure more experienced teachers to the underpeforming schools. They oppose getting the very small number of incompetent teachers out of the classroom. They are all about themselves, their job security, their tenure, and their paychecks, not about what is best for the students. Don't let the UESF tell you what to do, voters!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 6:28 am

Did you watch this week's Board of Education meeting? They were discussing the assignment process, and Sandra Fewer asked one of her usual stupid questions, and the presenter told Fewer that the information was in the binder given to the Commissioners a week before. Sandra Fewer giggled and laughed as she said that she hadn't had a chance to look at the binder of data. So someone hands her the binder, and she's flipping through it, giggling, and saying "Wow. Now that I've got the binder right here --
this data is just fascinating! Some of it is depressing, but it doesn't lie. It's real. Thank you for doing this!" (more giggling)
The Board of Education is in charge of oversight, and it makes me ill to see the lack of seriousness some Commissioners have about the job they are supposed to be doing. We have to suffer through two more years of her Sandra Fewer's giggling.
Margaret Brodkin will study everything in those binders, and she will respect the gravity of her position and be a Commissioner the children deserve.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 6:47 am

We hear a lot from this school board about the importance of diversity for our students; for years, the goal of diversity was used as a justification for sending students to schools all over town, and many on the school board still talk about diversity as if it were a goal in itself.

But when it comes to membership on the Board of Education, it appears that diversity, to some, means a group of women of all ethnicities who all think the same way, who all see each other as BFFs and sisters, and whose goal is to keep out anyone who might bring true diversity of opinion into their midst. Any group of fools can reach consensus if they all start out in the same place; nothing to be proud of there. The real accomplishment would be reaching consensus with a group representing the true diversity of opinion within the city. This is San Francisco; on any issue, 10 people will have 12 different opinions. So having a school board where everyone agrees with everyone else all the time means that most of the opinions are being completely shut out of the discussion. How is that something to be proud of?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 11:40 am

Glenn questions whether Margaret Brodkin was still head of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth at the time Coleman wrote a ballot argument in support of Prop. F in 2004, so I asked her. Brodkin left Coleman after 26 years in October 2004, to become director of the SF Dept. of Children, Youth and Their Families. She wrote the ballot argument prior to the August 2004 deadline for submitting ballot statements, when she was still head of Coleman Advocates.

Posted by CarolineSF on Sep. 02, 2010 @ 9:18 am

Can someone please explain to me why the Mayor needs an education adviser? If he wants advice from Hydra Mendoza, why can't he just invite her, in her capacity as a school board member, to meet and share her wisdom with him? Or for that matter, he could invite the whole school board, and the Superintendent, into his office on a weekly or biweekly basis to talk with him about school matters, and it wouldn't have to cost the city a cent.

How much does an education adviser get paid anyway? At a time when the city is facing such tough budget choices, maybe it is time to reconsider whether scarce dollars are best spent paying for that which could be had for free.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 02, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

Enough will lethargic incumbents and old ideas. Lets get some new people on the board!

Posted by John R on Sep. 06, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

You're assuming Maufas and Mendoza ever had any idea at all.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 5:48 am

Brodkin has been working on children's issues in San Francisco for how many decades?

While Brodkin has held power over public policy concerning children in San Francisco, the number of children has plummeted precipitously.

What is it about San Francisco that people who have been laboring for decades, accomplishing little or nothing or even moving their agenda backwards are put up for promotion?

-marc

Posted by marcos on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 8:07 am

The key reason the number of children in San Francisco has plummeted, Marcos,is that a tiny little 2-bedroom house starts at $900K (though I suppose your next move will be to find a way to blame Margaret Brodkin for that too). It's not just dishonest and unethical, it's actually an attack on kids to denigrate the long list of accomplishments Brodkin has achieved on their behalf. Someone who doesn't give a crap about the interests of kids and families may sneer at the child-care programs, health programs, summer meal programs, school salad bars, academic support, job support, juvenile justice advocacy, youth voice programs and all the rest that she has brought to the children and young people of SF. But anyone who does cares about the needs of families and young people -- especially the most vulnerable families and young people -- respects and supports those programs. Why would someone who couldn't care less about the needs of young people and families even be paying attention to the school board race? Maybe you'd like to go back to the days when children's and families' needs were an afterthought to our city leaders, before Brodkin's leadership made them a priority?

Posted by CarolineSF on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 10:16 am

I think Margaret Brodkin has done a great deal for one group of society; and I believe the school district has too. But 30% of kids go to Private schools and many families leave San Francisco for a reason.
And no one is addressing this issue, run of the mill people with OK jobs and some limited resources are pretty much ignored.
May be instead of another voice for the poor, which seems to be over represented, may be a voice for the "just getting by" group would be nice.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 11:25 am

Chris, Parents for Public Schools and many other SFUSD advocates have definitely been addressing those issues. I'm one of a large number of parent volunteers who have devoted a lot of unpaid volunteer time to promoting our public schools to those parents who mistakenly think that they have to leave SF or spend $20K on private because of the schools. I've just signed on to staff the Parents for Public Schools table (as an unpaid volunteer) at a high school fair on Sunday 9/19 for that exact reason -- a type of volunteer work that I and many others have been doing for many years. So we very definitely have been working our butts off to address those issues (unpaid in most cases). Step up and join us! www.ppssf.org

I'm a middle-income parent in the "getting by" category, and I know that my kids have directly benefited from programs begun and/or supported by Margaret Brodkin and organizations she works with, such as after-school programs, Beacon Centers, school Wellness Centers and school salad bars.

Posted by CarolineSF on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

Clarifying -- private school parents are spending $20K-plus per year per kid. I left out the "per year per kid."

Posted by CarolineSF on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

I know many people are working very hard, and I know that some SFUSD schools are great. I would have loved our son to go to McKinley and we would only have crossed two or three streets to get to it. However we were assigned a school that I believe was inappropriate for our child.
My wife spent hours touring the schools etc. all for nothing and that is why 30% of people go to Private and many parents leave the district.
I understand that there will always be losers in the system, but after my dealings with SFUSD, I don't feel our families needs were ever heard; and if so many people do leave district or go Private, I am pretty sure we are not unique.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

Chris,

I hear you, and think your points are well taken.

Clearly some schools are much more in demand than others. Some of this disparity may be based on school locations, but I think most of it is due to perceived quality. This represents a loud message that students and parents are trying to send, which is not being heard.

I believe the district should honor this message by expanding the popular schools to meet demand, and shutting down the unpopular schools.

If a particular school has way more students wishing to attend it than it has the capacity to handle in a given year, students and parents should be notified of this, and given the opportunity to pick a different school rather than go to a school that will be overcrowded. Or they can stay with their first choice pick and be at a school that will have large class sizes and strained facilities, at least until the following year when the extra money given to the school as a result of its high enrollment can be used to hire more teachers, expand facilities, etc.

The important thing is that either way it will be their choice. With funding based on enrollment, having this choice will give students and parents the power of the purse, and make the schools more accountable and responsive to their needs.

I also favor raising teacher salaries, and cutting the pay of administrators to pay for it. Virtually everyone agrees that teachers have the most difficult and important jobs in education, so why is it that the School Board allows them to be frequently paid much less than non-teaching personnel in the district? Many school administrators are making six-figure salaries!

I think it is inexcusable that *anyone* in government is making a six-figure salary paid for by money stolen from the taxpayers, when there are thousands of homeless people on the street and tens of thousands of others barely getting by. If I had my way, city government salaries would be capped at $99,999 a year -- and no racking up outrageous overtime bills or gold-plated pensions either!

-Starchild, candidate for School Board

Posted by Starchild on Oct. 10, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

That's definitely for sure, Chris -- though truly, if you stick it out you WILL get an SFUSD school you're happy with, and unless your kid(s) is/are firmly established and you are happy to shell out megabucks every year for something you could get for free, it's not too late to transfer. Contact Parents for Public Schools for help and advice: www.ppssf.org

And remember: No matter how much stress the SFUSD process puts you through, the private school process is worse for many people, and for that, they have to pay hundreds of thousands of bucks -- quite a dubious consumer decision, to put it kindly.

But that said, what I was responding to was the claim that no one was addressing the issue of families who leave the district. In actuality, lots of people are pouring their unpaid volunteer time into addressing that very issue.

Posted by CarolineSF on Sep. 08, 2010 @ 9:03 am

If you are unhappy with the way the student assignment system works, then that is a good reason for not supporting Mendoza or Maufas. Both have been on the school board for 4 years, yet parents are still howling that the process is unfair, and that next year's redesign will continue to be unfair. So throw the bums out.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 08, 2010 @ 9:29 am

I am hopeful for the change to assignment next year, and as my son is a November child we are going to try one more time next year. But it has been very depressing and I am very disappointed with SF USD and feel pretty rejected by them

Posted by Chris Pratt on Sep. 08, 2010 @ 10:38 am

So the DCCC (Democratic Central Committee) endorses:

Maufas
Mendoza
and Murase

for Board of Education?

The voters of San Francisco voted against making Maufas a member of the DCCC, but the DCCC still endorses her for Board of Education?

The DCCC has absolutely lost it.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 09, 2010 @ 6:10 am

The voters of San Francisco voted for Maufus to be on the school board, and I'll be voting for her again because she's outstanding on the issues. In a low-turnout, conservative-heavy June election, she barely missed the cutoff for DCCC because her D10 base doesn't tend to turn out for June primaries, but so what? November will be different.

Where the DCCC went wrong is that they should have endorsed ONLY Maufus... maybe Brodkin. I'm still undecided about Brodkin. But Mendoza is a walking conflict of interest, and Murase is all over the map -totally untrustworthy on the issues.

I think the DCCC went with Mendoza because she'll probably win as an incumbent, and took Murase as the best of a generally bad field of candidates (Maufus being the exception). But in such a race, it makes sense to bullet-vote. If there aren't 3 good candidates in a multi-seat race, vote for 1 or 2. Voting for 3 just to fill up the slate can only hurt the candidate that you really want.

Posted by Greg on Sep. 09, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

I'm confused. Kim-Shree Maufus claims the SF Bay Guardian endorsement on her web site: http://www.kimshree4schoolboard.org/endorsements.html but I thought the SFBG endorsements hadn't come out! Can anyone explain?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 10, 2010 @ 7:09 am

That is her website from 4 years ago. She hasn't "gotten it together" to update it. Too busy buying coffees at Starbucks with school district funds, I guess.

Posted by Parent on Sep. 10, 2010 @ 8:49 am

She is in the pocket of the UESF; they guarantee her re-election and she promises to support every damn thing they want.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 10, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

Jane Kim got elected, 4 years ago, and she wasn't endorsed by UESF. More and more, people are paying attention and not voting for who the slate cards tell them to vote for. They understand the corruption.

Posted by Parent on Sep. 10, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

Did you listen to Kim-Shree's interview on srdad.com?
She takes credit for everything good that has happened in SFUSD. Apparently, it was all because of her!

http://www.srdad.com/SrDad/SFBoE/SFBoE.html

Posted by anon on Sep. 20, 2010 @ 11:55 am
Posted by SnuncSetsjeno on Apr. 11, 2011 @ 5:07 am

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