Saturday, December 11, 2010

San Diegans 4 Great Schools would only need one elected board member on their side to control schools

If they succeed in getting four appointed members added to the San Diego Unified School District board, SD4GS would only need one vote from an elected member to have a majority.

Dec 10, 2010
Encroaching on Our Right to Vote
By Guest Blogger Doug Porter
Voice of San Diego

I find it quite curious that any mention of gun control anywhere leads to a chorus of cries that our freedoms are in grave danger. Yet when a private group openly espouses encroaching on our right to vote...[crickets].

We hear a lot these days about the failings of our education system. Everywhere you look, fingers are pointed at the supposed culprits behind this crisis: lack of funding, the unions, the special interests, television, the internet, poverty, parents, teachers, immigration and, perhaps, the meddling federal government.

Education reform has become a fashionable forum for philanthropists who are so sure they can transfer their success in business to education that they are willing to bet your children's lives on it. Diane Ravitch calls them the "Billionaire Boys Club" in her best-selling book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

Now there is a move afoot, inspired by these well-meaning types asking the citizens of San Diego, via an upcoming initiative, to sacrifice your right to vote for school board members in the name of reform. Perhaps you've seen their (paid) signature collectors recently, asking for your support to "save our schools."

By 2020 just about one-half of students nationwide will be attending public schools clustered in 20 large urban districts. The research into large city school districts reveals widespread poverty, chronic academic underachievement, dropouts, crime, unstable school boards, reform policy churn, and high superintendent turnover. The typical tenure of a superintendent in the largest large city districts is two to three years. In San Diego, we've had four superintendents since 1996.

Reliance on test scores, charter schools and an ever increasing expectation for school system employees to do more with less are all parts of the currently fashionable "reform" picture. At the root of all this local push is the notion that such reforms can only be accomplished by a strong leader, one like Alan Bersin, who directed San Diego's system from 1998-2005.

Bersin's tenure ended here once the majority that backed him on the school board was defeated at the ballet box. Despite, for example, spending $720,000 to defeat Board member Frances Zimmerman in 2000, the pro-Bersin, pro-business interests were unable to persuade the public to buy into their approach.

Now these same groups are back in the game, hailing a self-financed study of San Diego schools that selectively uses data purporting to show that a "crisis" is at hand. Calling themselves San Diegans 4 Great Schools, their solution to this "emergency" is to appoint an additional four members to the school board.

Other major urban areas have tried this route, either going with hybrid appointed/elected school boards, or by having the mayor take control of the schools. Like charter schools, these attempts at governance reform have produced mixed results, and certainly nothing that would qualify as a game changer or a silver bullet for school performance.

There is no simple cure for the ills that plague our schools. But if the problem is worst in our largest districts, then one understandable policy proposal would be to divide them into smaller districts, as Harvard University economist Caroline M. Hoxby has pointed out. Her research indicates that smaller districts foster more choice for parents, with the resulting competition leading to significantly improved school performance. Given that parents greatly value neighborhood schools, smaller districts would seem to be a better choice. San Diego Unified is already taking steps in this direction on the administrative level by breaking local schools into eight clusters.

We've tried the "we need some appointed experts" approach in the not-so-distant past right here in San Diego with the city's employee pension plans. And I don't think that process has worked out too well for the taxpayer. We certainly need to question the motives of any group that claims to have "the" solution to a problem this complex. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

As Winston Churchill said on the eve of the cold war, "Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect... Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Faced with the choice of giving up my right to vote or more local control, I'll take local control every time.

Doug Porter is a regular blogger for and a San Diego Unified parent. He is guest blogging about why he opposes a campaign to change how the San Diego Unified school board is selected...Doug Porter is a 1968 graduate from Point Loma High School and has a daughter that attends the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts. He blogs regularly for You can contact Doug directly at


"sinister" "suspicion" "behind closed doors" "martians will suck out my brains"

Come on, folks- this is just paranoia. I understand people disagree with this organization, and I understand why. As I pointed out, I'm not in complete alignment with them either. Fair enough.

But they are trying to bring options and they are trying to improve schools in a manner they believe match the needs of employers. And, as business types (myself included) we make decisions based on sound management and business principles. (OK, in my case maybe not so sound) Leadership is not defined as appeasing everybody or taking polls and deciding a course of action that is popular. Margaret Thatcher told us that "Consensus is a lack of leadership".

It's absolutely clear that the labor-controlled board is acting in the best interest of union, often at the expense of the students and teachers. Remember the PLA?

This is a group that believes (and I agree) that our schools suffer from poor and biased leadership, and have strong and legitimate suggestions for changes they believe would help *students*.

DIsagree all you wish- that's good citizenship. But to use terms like "sinister" "suspicion" "behind closed doors" "martians will suck out my brains" to defend a weak argument belies the dedication to status quo that continues to cripple our schools. One cannot ask to "bring all players to the table" from one side of a keyboard, but on the other side criticize and besmirch the efforts of those players who do.

In short: Bring all players to the table, but don't change anything, OK?

Now, cue those conspiracy theorists that believe there is big bucks awaiting for these sinister and suspicious business types- wait for it- they'll arrive anytime.

Paul M. Bowers

Response to Paul Bowers from Maura Larkins:
You say "it's absolutely clear that the labor-controlled board is acting in the best interest of union," and at the same time you say it's paranoia to think that businessmen trying to pack the board with unelected members might have mixed motives.

Is that the best you can do to defend SD4GS's motives? To say that it's paranoid to question those motives? You're not much of a supporter of public discussion of public entities, are you?

You know that the "businessmen" you are defending have a spokesman, Scott Himelstein, who attended yacht parties with superintendent Ed Brand, and got Brand to interfere with a teacher hiring panel on behalf of his wife. You are either being disingenuous or you are kidding yourself if you still think that those "businessmen" have wholly pure motives.

At least we know what the union's goals are.

Democracy is far from perfect, but voters clearly chose union-connected board members. So you want to weaken democracy in the governance of schools? What do you plan to teach students about democracy? That businessmen should undermine it in order to help students? That the goals of these businessmen are so pure and paramount that they outweigh our democratic tradition?

It's simply wrong to assume that businessmen care more about education than teachers do. Both groups have mixed motives, neither group can be trusted to run schools alone. And who should decide what mixture of businessmen and union supporters should be on the board? The voters should continue to decide--not an appointed panel.

Maura Larkins

I agree and disagree when I hear that businesses need employees that can come out of school ready to work. Are you talking about high school grads?Than if that's the case Wal-Mart, Target and others always need a low-wage work force to be competitive. Businesses after all have the bottom line in mind, all the time. Or is business leaders talking about college grads (I doubt it)?

Mr. Bowers, do you remember when you were 18 and out of school? Yea, most people don't like hiring someone right out of high school, you know why? They don't have life experience and know the expectations for what the real world is like. I think you need to give teenagers a break (that's what they still are). You know and I know to make it in our county you need a college education, you can't survive on a high school diploma anymore. This goes back to loosing our manufacturing base, overseas jobs and oh, I could go on and on.

I would NOT want my child to work for someone who is going to hire them out of high school, instead, like all of us we want them to go to college and get a real job. I'm very suspicious of someone ready to hire my son right out of high school.

I think we can agree our children (city of san diego) need a great education, we just disagree on how to get there.

(Robert Hampton)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Margaret Thatcher crushed the miners and took away children's free school milk thus earning the endearing nickname of "Milk Snatcher."