At-risk students deserve our help

In 2010, students at three underperforming middle schools sued the Los Angeles Unified School District on the grounds that seniority-based teacher layoffs unfairly impact poor schools. This is because difficult schools tend to be staffed by newer teachers, what with more senior teachers choosing high-performing schools. The case is still being litigated, but both sides agree that “evidence shows there is a distinct relationship between high teacher turnover and the quality of educational opportunities afforded. High teacher turnover devastates educational opportunity.” It is especially troubling when the teacher turnover takes place in the very schools where students most need stability and teachers with institutional knowledge.

Here in San Francisco, it is no different. When discussing potential layoffs for the 2012-13 school year, 14 low-performing schools mostly in the Mission and Bayview Superintendent Zones were scheduled to see four times as many layoffs as the district as a whole. In 2010, the school district was awarded grant money to spend on nine of the 14 schools and throughout the 2011-12 school year, it spent about $8 million to invest in training and coaching for the teaching staff at zone schools.

This training seems to be paying off, and last year the zone schools were accelerating students at twice the rate in English and three times the rate in math compared to the district as a whole. But when it was time to prepare for layoffs in the 2012-13 school year, 70 trained teachers at zone schools didn’t have the seniority to survive, and would need a special exemption from the seniority rules to continue working. When the exemption was considered at a Feb. 28 Board of Education meeting, principals from schools in the zone spoke one after the other, begging the board to save these 70 teachers to preserve the stability and progress their schools were finally experiencing.

Then Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, got up and called the parade of principals “beneath contempt.” He glowered at the board members and said of the proposal to save the teachers: “It is immoral, it is divisive, it will not be forgotten, it will not be forgiven.”

When it was time to vote, board member Sandra Lee Fewer tearfully explained that she is a union supporter and wished we could afford training for all teachers in the system, but the need to stay the course for the children in these distressed schools is too great to ignore. As she spoke, Kelly yelled, “If you can’t do it for every school, don’t do it for one!”

Fewer held her ground and voted in favor of keeping the 70 teachers. So did Rachel Norton, Jill Wynn, Hydra Mendoza and Norman Yee. The only no vote was Kim-Shree Maufas. Thanks to state funding and money from San Francisco’s rainy-day fund, layoffs were largely avoided across the system and the 70 teachers are back in the classrooms. But that’s not the end of the story.

Norton, Wynn and Fewer are now up for re-election. In past elections, the teachers union has endorsed these women, but instead of backing them again, the union is endorsing Matt Haney, Beverly Popek, Sam Rodriguez and Shamann Walton. The message is clear: If you try to mess with our rules, even for the benefit of the neediest students, we will work to kick you out.

On Election Day, be sure to let Kelly and the union officials know that bullying has no place in our schools or at our school board meetings. Their attempt to railroad the Board of Education members who stood up to stop the teacher churn in underperforming schools is immoral, it is divisive, it will not be forgotten, it will not be forgiven.

Supervisors’ votes were about politics, not Mirkarimi’s job

On Tuesday night, four members of the Board of Supervisors voted to reinstate Ross Mirkarimi to his position as sheriff. The votes of supervisors John Avalos and David Campos were no big surprise. In the short term, neither man will suffer, but their attempts at higher office just got a lot more interesting. As for other supes:

Eric Mar: Recent election filings show opposition to Mar out-fundraising Mar 4-1, so he needed to display a sign of life. With Avalos, Campos and Christina Olague in the bag, Mar’s vote wasn’t necessary to save Mirkarimi’s job, so Mar got a free pass to vote against Mirkarimi and keep himself in the race for supervisor in District 1.

Christina Olague: Well-played. In one move, Olague appeared to show progressive credentials and give the brush-off to Mayor Ed Lee, Willie Brown and Rose Pak, who have been campaigning for her. However, I suspect that Brown and Pak are much more interested in having a pro-development supervisor than whether Mirkarimi is sheriff. If Olague loses her supervisorial race, it’ll likely be to Julian Davis, who is downtown’s nightmare. Giving her a pass to vote for Mirkarimi keeps her in the race and their long-term interests intact. Plus, her campaign will probably get the use of Mirkarimi’s foot soldiers, who would thus be unwittingly campaigning for the 8 Washington project and future development.

Jane Kim: Kim is a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School, and yet in almost two years on the board, she has never demonstrated legal knowledge of any kind. Tuesday night was no different, as she asked embarrassingly basic questions about what constitutes unconstitutional vagueness. She then cast a vote that was so vague she had to explain herself twice. On the upside, after being called out for changing a recent vote to favor the mayor after a visit from Pak, her vote for Mirkarimi provided a much-needed appearance of independence.

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