Some San Francisco parents are fighting hard to keep their kids in neighborhood schools

Proposition H addresses San Francisco school choice policy

Should the San Francisco Unified School District assign students to schools closest to their homes?
Bayview father Ed Donaldson thinks that question, which will appear on the November ballot as Proposition H, has a simple answer.

“It makes sense for them to be in the neighborhood where they can get the support, the mentoring,” Donaldson said.

Prop. H, which is nonbinding, would make it city policy to encourage the district to change its student assignment system so every student can attend school closest to their home. But school officials say it’s not as simple as it sounds.

“It’s changing a process we spent two years going into,” said Board of Education President Hydra
Mendoza. “We’re trying to balance choice and neighborhood.”

SFUSD sends students to schools anywhere in The City based on parental choice while using certain tiebreakers. In 2010, the school board revised the tiebreakers to include whether a family lives in a school’s immediate area, but that carries less weight than other factors. School officials say only a quarter of parents rank their closest school as a first choice anyway.

United Educators of San Francisco, the teachers union, is leading the opposition to the ballot measure, arguing that it would be expensive and disruptive to revamp the system again.

The union also is concerned about the woman who has become Prop. H’s most prominent advocate: Chris Miller, a single mother from the Richmond district who also is a Republican Party committee member.

“We are faced with an ideologue here,” said Ken Tray, the union’s political director.

Miller bristled at Tray’s characterization.

“Why are they so threatened by me?” she said. “They’re the ones making this political. This is about parents trying to advocate for our kids.”

Miller, who leads a group called San Francisco Students First, helped organize the signature-gathering campaign that put Prop. H on the ballot. She drew the union’s ire when, in a video interview on a conservative website, she described teachers unions as outdated.

But Proposition H has nothing to do with unions, Miller said.

“It’s just kind of a common-sense, fact-based measure,” she said.

Other parents who support Prop. H have distanced themselves from Miller. They formed a group called Families for Neighborhood Schools to push for the measure on their own.

“We’re cordial with her, but she’s got her own ideas and philosophies,” said the group’s co-director, Bayview father Omar Khalif.


Political science

What began as a small group of disaffected parents pushing for a change to SFUSD’s student assignment system has become a charged political battle, and San Francisco’s mayoral candidates are picking sides.

For Proposition H
* Jeff Adachi: “I think it’s important for a child to go to a neighborhood school if they want to. It’s safer, there’s less problems with transportation.”
* Michela Alioto-Pier
* Tony Hall: “Parents, obviously, are much better off when their children are going to school in the neighborhood.”
* Joanna Rees: “We should have high-quality schools in every neighborhood.” (Rees recently formed a ballot committee called Support Quality Neighborhood Schools for All — Yes on H)

Against Proposition H
* John Avalos
* David Chiu: “The reality today is we do not have great schools in every neighborhood.”
* Bevan Dufty: “This is a ballot measure that’s meaningless. It’s not going to do anything, and I’m not for it.”
* Phil Ting: “While I’m a huge supporter of neighborhood schools … I just don’t think it should be a ballot initiative.”
* Leland Yee

No official position
* Dennis Herrera
* Ed Lee

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