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Save Our Schools

Apr
9
2004

Just when it was looking like San Francisco politics were getting kinda boring — what with a mayor we could all (almost) support and his most electable opponent going off in a poorly timed snit of self-pity that pulled the rug out from under the city’s “progressives,” – along comes SFSOS.
SFSOS, a civic organization run by long-time Democratic operative Wade Randlett with backing from wealthy business guys like Gap founder Don Fisher and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has focused on San Francisco city schools. The group is proposing a ballot initiative – an advisory one – that would conceivably, maybe, someday after the lawyers are done, do away with the city’s desegregation program and end the cross-town journeys some kids make to go to school every day. The reasons? Schools are so good throughout the city, says Randlett, the balancing that was once needed in schools isn’t necessary any more.


As an organizer looking to generate support for his organization, Randlett’s thinking is, as always, dead on. The cross-town busing is a big issue. But it’s also a very hot one that’s not well understood city-wide. Parents hoping to end the program approached every mayoral candidate for support last summer; they got nowhere. Only Republican Tony Ribera was front and center in support of the issue, which goes under the “neighborhood schools” moniker.
It sounds like a good idea. The reality, in these litigious times, is that it isn’t so easy to accomplish. San Francisco, if I’m reading the Chron story correctly, operates under two separate but related court orders on this issue. Here’s what Maree Sneed, one of the school board’s lawyers, had to say about the SFSOS proposal:
“What are they trying to accomplish?” she said. “I would hope they would get behind us and focus on improving academic achievement for children — that’s the most important thing.”
And I don’t think Randlett helped his case when he made a point of telling the Chron that four school board members – including Mayor Gavin Newsom’s appointee Heather Hiles – would have to deal with this issue as part of their re-election campaigns. SFSOS claims to endorse some of the ideas Newsom campaigns on so, well, what’s the real point of this ballot initiative?
City politics have for too long been characterized by a kind of class bitterness – the wealthy v. the poor, white v. ethnic, downtown v. neighborhoods – that looked like it might be coming to an end with Newsom’s election. This contentious, and sure to be described as racist, get-out-the-vote effort isn’t really needed right now.
So the timing on the SFSOS advisory initiative – it’s only going to generate heat and maybe not so much light — is just plain weird. The court orders covering city schools expire in a few years; Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is working on what to do next and it’s probably not going to involve a full-scale busing plan. The fall ballot is expected to be long and controversial at the state level, with Indian gaming revenues at the top of the list. And oh, yeah, it’s a presidential election year.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 9:19 AM | Permalink

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