Alioto-Pier plays the school card

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Former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier is barely registering in the mayoral polls and at this point has about zero chance of getting elected. So she's thrown out a desperation pitch, trying to get votes from people who think kids should all go to neighborhood schools.

A mailer that I got yesterday shows two sad looking children in front of a Muni bus with the line: "Our ride to school is longer than our parents' ride to work. Who will stand up and fight for us?"

There are shades of the old (sometimes racist) anti-busing stuff here -- why should kids have to ride buses - buses -- to go to a school that isn't right in the neighborhood? There's also very much a class issue -- the public schools in rich neighborhoods have resources (that is, rich parents) that schools in poor neighborhoods don't. So kids who grow up in (still segregated) poor neighborhoods won't get a chance to have the same quality education as kids who had the skill and drive that it took to be born to wealthy parents.

Sure, we could "make every school a great school," as the neighborhood schools crew likes to say -- but that would take money. Tax money. Lots more tax money.  And I don't hear Alioto-Pier talking about repealing Prop. 13.

Here's the reality: In most public schools, parents have to raise money to supplement what the district can offer. You want smaller classes, or language options? Fine -- come up with $50,000. Hold fundraisers, write grants, beg and plead -- and some school communities are very good at it. Clarendon routinely raises $200,000 or more a year. My daughter's school, McKinley, holds a car was and Dog Fest, and we got a corporate grant to rebuild the playground. Those things take (a) parents who have time and (b) parents with the skills to write grants and (c) parents who have money to contribute on their own.

You segregate school attendance by neighborhood and you'll get some schools that have a lot of a, b, and c -- and some that have almost none. Now, you could "tax" the good fundraisers -- force, say, the Clarendon and McKinley parents to give 25 percent of everything they raise to other schools that don't have the same parent resources. I'm not actually against that. But it's almost impossible to administer and unlikely to happen.

Or you could say that parents all over town have the right to choose a school anywhere, including one of the ones in the wealthier parts of town. Then the parents who have resources wind up helping out kids who come from poorer families, because the schools are more socio-economically diverse.

There's also the fact that San Francisco is a pretty small city; taking a bus from my neighborhood, Bernal Heights, to my son's middle school, Aptos -- in a different neighborhood in another part of town -- isn't that big a deal.

And there's the indisputable fact that most parents don't want to be limited to their neighborhood schools. They want choice. There are different types of programs for different kids -- and you can't have Mandarin, Spanish and Japanese immersion all offered at every single elementary school. 

And by the way: Most parents who want to send their kids to the nearby schools get their way already. The new assignment policy gives priorioty to neighborhood residents. And 80 percent of the parents who enter the lottery get one of their seven choices. (Enter the lottery and chose your neighborhood school and the odds are pretty good that you'll get it. But a lot of people don't do that -- they want a different program or opportunity somewhere else. San Francisco very rarely forces kids to take long bus rides; those kids mostly go to schools that their parents chose for them.) It's not a perfect system, but as a parent who's been through it (twice), I can tell you it's really not that bad.

Then there's the fact that the mayor doesn't actually get to decide any of this. The school assigment policy is set by the School Board. So even if Alioto-Pier got elected, there's no way she could implement the "neighborhood school plan" that she's talking about.

This is just outright pandering to a West Side crowd. And it's probably a waste of paper and ink -- Alioto-Pier's not going back to City Hall.