Parents ask chance to help save
19 schools set to close or merge
By Pat Murphy
January 12, 2006
Parents hope to forestall a School Board decision tonight on
proposed closure or merger of 19 San Francisco schools.
They asked yesterday for the decision making process to stop
until community input has the opportunity to help close a $5 million
budget shortfall which prompted the school administration proposal.
With school district revenues tied to school enrollment figures,
the list of schools on the block include those schools most losing
student enrollments - heavily affecting disadvantaged neighborhood
Five schools fall in District 5 represented by Supervisor Ross
Mirkarimi who yesterday backed parent request to postpone closure
decision and criticized Mayor Gavin Newsom as not doing enough
to save those schools.
District 5 lost three schools to the budget axe last year, prior
to this year's proposal to close or merge five more.
Mirkarimi led a delegation of city supervisors, former Mayor
Art Agnos, parents and students in a City Hall rally to block
the school administration plan.
From left, School District Commissioner Mark Sanchez
with Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi
Although city government and the school district are two separate
governing bodies, the city has allocated $35 million to the school
district made possible by Prop H voter approved funding authority
authored by Ammiano.
Mirkarimi criticized Newsom as not delivering on city administration
stated goal to retain families in San Francisco.
"We support that particular cause," said Mirkarimi.
"But what defies
the conventional wisdom of that cause
is that you cannot do that
if you shut down the very institutions
which are the means of
delivering on that particular goal.
"What we want is for the school closure process to stop.
Halt it completely.
"We understand that there is a budget deficit and as I said
we understand that hard decisions have to be made.
"But not at the expense nor at the sacrifice especially
of communities who have been disproportionately hit - African
American, Latino communities, working class populations.
"We say, one - stop the closure process. Two - that the
mayor of San Francisco help us unearth
innovative ways that
at least buy us time.
"We also ask for a Task Force
comprised of the people
of this community and throughout San Francisco who have been adversely
affected by the school closures
"We can solve this problem, but this problem will not be
solved by the unilateral and the insensitive process that is underway,"
School district decisions should expand beyond revenue considerations,
said District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell who represents Bayview-Hunters
Supervisor Sophie Maxwell
"We also need to understand that the San Francisco School
District has got to change," Maxwell insisted.
"When we asked them, 'What was your reason, what was your
process?' We heard nothing from them other than it was money.
"You do not reorganize a school district just because of
"It's not just about a quick fix. It's not just about four
or five million dollars that we can give them.
"The School Board needs to go back to the drawing board,
and they need to have a better and comprehensive idea of how we
are going to proceed.
"And they need to include us. We are the ones who will make
this school district work. It's communities, it's businesses,
it's neighbors - they need to include all of us," Maxwell
Schools are "the core of living, breathing neighborhoods,"
said former school teacher, school board member, and now Supervisor
Supervisor Tom Ammiano
"I don't want this to be a rally of false hope," Ammiano
"I want this to be a rally of concern that many people were
excluded from the process.
"There are so many unintended consequences when you close
a school - a school doesn't operate in a vacuum.
He recalled a time when Douglass School was slated for closure,
still today operating as the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy.
"When they wanted to close that school years ago
and neighbors fought the closure of that school because they knew
that when that school died the rest of the neighborhood was at
"It is a living, breathing, more than bricks and mortar,
building - any elementary or middle or high school. It really
is made up the heart and soul of a community.
"It is not up to us to nip and tuck and rip out a heart
here and take off a limb there. That's not how it works. San Francisco
is a whole city.
"I don't want an adversarial relationship with the School
"I think we all came together very well for Prop H (city
funds transfer to schools). Let's use that energy, let's use that
vision, let's save these school and make San Francisco a world
class model for public - and I underline 'public' - public education,"
Agnos maintained the process for deciding which schools should
be closed was based on "pessimism and negativity" rather
than San Francisco values.
"Every mayor has published reports
that state that
public education is one of the most fundamental issues for families
staying in this city," said the former mayor of San Francisco.
"That's why it is so disconcerting and discouraging to witness
a process over the last three or four months that reflects a complete
lack of understanding of one of the most fundamental values that
we have here in San Francisco - and that is of community participation
in the decisions that affect people in our city.
"The current plans reflected in the recommendations of the
San Francisco Unified School District treat children as though
they were part of San Francisco's past - not an essential part
of our future.
"Let me give you an example. You look at the priorities
for the Unified School District staff in their budget -- in their
top ten priorities none of them include increasing enrollment
as a top priority.
"What that tells me is that they have accepted defeat
the people of San Francisco
have not accepted defeat.
"The decline in enrollment is almost entirely in our elementary
schools, yet my personal experience on Potrero Hill tells me there
are dozens and dozens and dozens of children who could fill every
one of our neighborhood schools.
"Indeed, today you will hear
from parents who want
(their children) to go the public schools and who want to keep
"The flight of families is not about just from the 49 square
miles of San Francisco. It is the families who remain inside San
Francisco who have taken from flight from the schools by putting
too many of their children in private schools
"We've got to reverse that trend and we would fill our schools
especially at the elementary level."
Joan Livingston, mother of a San Francisco public school first
grade pupil, reported lost enrollment translates to a fraction
of school district revenue.
"We know that there is an anticipated $5 million shortfall
in the school district budget
but did you know that represents
less than two percent of the annual school budget in this city?
"We want to help close that $5 million gap - we just don't
think it should be done on the back of 5,000 students in San Francisco.
"Did you know that every student in the San Francisco School
District generates about $5,000 annually in funds from the state
and federal governments?
"I think that working together with the School Board, with
the district staff, and using the intelligent, committed, passionate
families in San Francisco we can gain another 1,000 students,
and there goes the shortfall.
"The overall (city) budget is $5.3 billion
our $5 million
shortfall represents 0.1% of that annual budget.
"We're not asking the mayor to solve the problem, but we
do think somewhere in that $5.3 billion there might be a little
to help us stop this process temporarily and figure out a more
Livingston led other parents and children to the Mayor's Office
delivering a letter of suggested solutions and recommendation
for heightened community involvement.
School Board Vice President Sarah Lipson and School Commissioner
Mark Sanchez attended the rally, as did School Board immediate
past President Eric Mar.
For the Newsom administration's part, mayoral press secretary
Peter Ragone said parents misunderstand the mayor's position on
"The mayor has said that what we need to do is have a non-political
process for deciding which schools need to be closed, because
the simple fact is that we have almost half the enrollment that
we did forty years ago," Ragone told the Sentinel.
"The mayor has said that he will do everything that he can
do to support that process.
"We've already offered resources. We've offered planning
assistance and we're ready to help in any way that we can.
"What we would do is urge the supervisors to join with us
in asking that the Board of Education approach this in a non-political
way and to find a way to get political pressures out of this process
"What Supervisor Mirkarimi is doing is adding more politics
into the process that is not going to help.
"Our education advisor to the mayor has met with the (school)
board, with parents groups, with supervisors again and again and
again on this matter.
"And it seems strange to me that only in the last few hours
does Supervisor Mirkarimi decide that he needs to weigh in on
this. It just reiterates the need, the desperate need, that we
have to get politics out of this process and to let people help
the board make decisions based on what's best for our children,"
The School Board meets tonight at 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium
of Everett Middle High School located at 450 Church Street.