San Francisco, known for its dare-to-be-different progressive policies, may be a haven for the avant-garde. But many feel that The City’s schools have become an outdated, very expensive and failed desegregation experiment, resulting in a November ballot initiative that just may impact the upcoming mayor’s race.
Chris Miller, a single mother, lives in San Francisco with her two kids, ages 12 and 4. When she was working, she moved to a neighborhood near a good school for her daughter, fully expecting that her daughter would be able to walk the few blocks to school every day. But this year, Miller sent her daughter to live with family in another city because of the failing schools in San Francisco.
San Francisco has a random lottery system for the public schools. Rather than assigning kids to the schools closest to their homes, the district for years has been leveling the playing field, trying to achieve an ethnic, socioeconomic and achievement blend of students.
Miller said that if the plan is for San Francisco school officials to drive families out of The City to the surrounding suburban areas, it is succeeding.
Rather than move, Miller decided to take on the San Francisco Unified School District. She and a group of parents founded a political action committee called Students First (not associated with former Washington, D.C., school Superintendant Michelle Rhee’s group of the same name).
“We are a group of very angry San Francisco parents who organized a grass-roots committee called ‘Students First,’” she said.
Students First collected 15,000 signatures and qualified a ballot initiative for the November 2011 election to address the school assignment mess and focus on a true neighborhood-based student-assignment system.
“The initiative asks for only one thing,” Miller said. “It asks that, of the four considerations in the student assignment system, that neighborhood proximity is the No. 1 consideration. That’s it. It’s that simple.”
Miller hasn’t been able to get Mayor Ed Lee to commit one way or the other on her initiative. She said that Lee told her he was remaining neutral on the issue. He’s running for election.
But she has received endorsements from other city officials, including Public Defender Jeff Adachi, a mayoral candidate, as well as other mayoral candidates Joanna Rees, Michela Alioto-Pier, Phil Ting and Tony Hall.
State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, is also running for mayor, but Miller said that he recently withdrew his endorsement of the ballot initiative.
“Too much time, money, personnel and other resources are spent in a game of musical students,” Miller said.
“Such efforts could and should be better spent at direct school improvement. It is the district’s job to make every school desirable for the local community. When was the last time you heard the Board of Education discuss student achievement? The social engineering has got to stop in San Francisco before all of the families are driven out.”
And while the teachers union has been actively campaigning against her initiative, she acquired 2,000 signatures from teachers for it. “Teachers get it,” Miller said. “They want to see improvements for the kids and for the schools.”
Miller said that the fight will end one way or another on Nov. 9.
“I’ll know then if I can stay or will have to leave San Francisco the day after the election,” she said. “Adult special-interest groups benefit from hurting children. If that is how it is going to be in San Francisco, then I am leaving, too — I can’t justify staying.”
Katy Grimes is a reporter for CalWatchDog.com, an affiliate of Pacific Research Institute.