The SF school district crisis: Worse Than You Think

And teachers and school board members go out of their way to alienate parents

Following the latest developments in the San Francisco Public Schools isn’t easy. But eventually, I think everyone gets down to one question:

What is wrong with you people?

Last week you may seen — in a “who asked for this?” moment — the San Francisco teachers union voted to endorse a boycott of Israel, citing “solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

Which is fine. A lot of attitudes about Israel’s role with Palestine are changing. My attitude is changing. I’m ready to listen. Critics may have a point.

But surely the union realizes that as teachers in the schools, like it or not, they represent the school district. And that means all 50-plus thousand students.

Many of whom are Jewish, and see this as an affront. Ira Gert, an Israeli who has lived in SF for over 20 years, told the Jewish News “I regret sending my kids to SFUSD. We deliberately wanted them to be exposed to racial diversity . . . and now I feel like my race and my nation is being singled out in a negative way.”

And why? The middle east has been an intractable geo-political crisis forever. Why wade into this? Was anyone wondering how public school teachers in San Francisco felt about this? Spoiler alert — no.

It is impossible the teachers didn’t know this was going to set off a significant segment of the district. And yet, in what has become a troubling SFUSD pattern, they considered a decision, realized it was going to cause an uproar and walked right into the wood chipper of public opinion.

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Now, there’s no need to go over the whackadoodle roller coaster than has been the SF School Board. There’s the racist Tweets and the crazy $87 million law suit Alison Collins has filed against other board members. And, of course, there’s the attempt to explain why Abraham Lincoln is not worthy of having a school named after him.

Once we got to the “Who cancels Lincoln?” point, their designation as national laughing stock was pretty secure. That’s about as high a hill as they will climb.

But, like the teachers, they made a troubling choice. It was a conscious decision on an issue they absolutely knew was going to generate intense blowback — removing the academic standard to get into Lowell High School.

Again, I’m ready to have the discussion. I’m not convinced an academically-selected student body in a public school is a great idea.

But they knew that the Asian-American community would be in an uproar. Over half of the Lowell student body is Asian, far more than any other racial group. Lowell has been recognized nationally for academic excellence. The idea of changing to a lottery system was a shock.

And, to the surprise of no one, Asian parents are furious.

So now teachers and school board members have gone out of their way to pick a fight with two groups — Jews and Asians — for no good reason. During a pandemic. Why?

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And, of course, you have an entire group of parents, who aren’t involved in the politics, who are sitting at home with their kids thinking, “This is what you’re focussing on?”

The pandemic has been the greatest medical and social crisis in 100 years. Kids and parents are literally struggling to get through a day without school. They see their son or daughter sitting at the dining room table, trying to attend school virtually. And this at a time when parents were probably trying to limit screen time, not make it mandatory.

It was job #1 to concentrate on safely getting back to school. It is infuriating to see teachers and school board members drift off on these tangents.

And finally — and thanks for sticking with this — we get to the real point. These groups, whether they mean to or not, are undermining their own district.

At a school budget meeting early this month, Here Say Media quoted district officials who “said (the district) lost 700 students during the school year, in addition to the decline of 1,000 recorded at the beginning of the year.”

Worse yet, they reported a nearly 10 percent drop in kindergarten enrollment. Obviously, if they don’t start in the district, that ripple will continue through subsequent class years.

And, just to go out on a limb, I will bet you every Bitcoin I own that when the school year begins, there will be an even bigger drop in enrollment.

And this after analysts predicted, before the pandemic, that SFUSD would add 5,000 students by 2030.

That’s almost certainly not going to happen. We know two families in our building who have specifically said they are either leaving the state or leaving the district because they are fed up with the school district.

And no, it isn’t all the school board or the teacher’s union. There’s the Byzantine school selection system, the lack of neighborhood community and — obviously — the strain of the Pandemic.

But this feel’s like a “last straw” moment. Teachers, in particular had a reservoir of good will — tough job, low pay and critically important. But the foot-dragging on reopening, requiring measures beyond what experts recommend, has tarnished that.

People are leaving the district and that has real-world, financial consequences. School districts get their funding from the state based on average daily attendance. When attendance goes down, money goes down. And there’s already a money crunch.

At that June budget meeting, SFUSD estimated a 2020 budget deficit of $100 million, which officials called “moderate.”

“That’s not moderate,” said Elizabeth Kelly, a parent who called into the meeting. “That’s 10 percent of your budget. That’s pretty grim.”

And if my prediction of more families fleeing the district comes true next year, the financial picture could be more dire.

Now, is this the fault of the nutty school board and the over-activated teacher’s union? No. It is a lot of factors, none of them encouraging.

But you sense that parents were looking for a reason to stick with the district, maybe to help improve things. Instead we see district teachers and board members picking divisive, political fights with the people they’re supposed to represent.

So what can be done? The focus has to be on the school board.

There is a recall effort underway to remove Collins, Gabriela Lopez and Faauuga Moliga, who are seen as the prime pushers of the activist agenda.

And that’s fine. But to be honest, it is going to be nearly impossible. To qualify, organizers say they hope to collect 70,000 signatures — per board member. I don’t see that happening.

However, each of them is up for re-election in 2022. If you are unhappy, there’s your opening. Parents’ groups are already activated. Now they need to find candidates that represent them, and enthusiastically support their run for office.

And how do we know they are right for the job?

I’d look for people with a “To Do” list.

Instead of an agenda.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@gmail.com. Suggestions and compliments gladly accepted. Criticism not so much. Twitter: @cwnevius