As a San Diego Unified School District board trustee I would welcome (and have called for) greater collaboration between all of our local government agencies and our schools. The city, county, transportation agencies and federal and state officials locally should work together in leveraging our financial and intellectual resources to help improve our kids’ education. We (local government officials) barely even talk among ourselves. We can do more to collaborate on libraries, health, welfare, economic development, career technical training, transportation and other areas. Yes we do have some great and impressive partnerships, but they are few. We can do much more.
I am glad mayoral candidates and City Council President Tony Young are talking about our schools. Although to date no one has offered any specific proposals to help us deal with our most difficult problems:
1) The perennial “achievement gap” between white and Asian students and the Latino and African American kids. While overall test scores (one measure of success) are inching up, the “gap” has essentially not moved in San Diego Unified (or nationwide.) And this is after hundreds of billions of federal funds being spent since the Great Society, targeting poverty and disadvantaged youth. Yes we have had some amazing academic growth in some schools with large majorities of poor kids, who also are predominantly from families in which English is the second language. It is truly inspiring to watch educators who are focused and showing great results. My colleagues on this board and the previous board, and I are focused on trying to replicate these successes in schools through San Diego Unified.
2) In addition, the years of state budget cuts combined with generally poor financial oversight by school boards have resulted in less and less funds directly targeted at kids. What are the specific proposals to deal with the budget gap and suggestions to improve efficiency or increase revenue? In another email I can outline all of the ways I and my colleagues have considered and pursued options.
Also, if you are going to kibitz on school issues, you need to weigh in on the governor’s plan to maintain state school funding. His plan calls for almost $5 billion in state tax increases to stop our bleeding. As a school board member I will support any state or local tax measure which will target more funds for our schools. Mayoral candidates who don’t opine on the state funding aspect of schools are blowing smoke up you know where. Candidates should also at least become somewhat educated on the state impact on our funding and irrational budgeting process, and how state law impacts seniority, delivery of services and many, many other rules in state education code which handcuff local school boards.
I have seen firsthand the incredible dedication and hard work of most of our teachers, administrators, classified employees and support staff. But I almost daily also become aware of appalling examples of dysfunction and inefficiency in this century-old institution. In addition, San Diego Unified has almost no culture of accountability. From the school board, to the superintendent to the school site employees and in most district departments, accountability is a very rare exception. We waste money, time, and precious “sweat equity” by our parents who volunteer innumerable hours in our schools. While this school board has directed the superintendent to make “accountability” a top priority, we have a long way to go to see results.
My impression is that the overwhelming number of 14,000 teachers and other district employees just want to do their job without the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads: the basic fear of whether they will be employed next year. So our problems are huge and, I must say that after a year on this board, depressingly, overwhelming and seemingly insolvable.
So I truly welcome more attention, discussion, transparency, and participation by all of our political and community leaders. While I understand the expediency of statements of “reform” and “oversight” and various “plans” to change school board governance all play a part in our political kabuki theatre, I would encourage specific plans and proposals to actually address our troubled school system. I think City Council President Tony Young’s call for a joint meeting between our school board and the council is a good start. (Let’s add our urban county supervisors in this discussion as well.)
I welcome the input, ideas, and help of anyone who is willing to help.
Scott Barnett is a San Diego Unified school board member. You can email him at ScottBarnettsdusd@gmail.com.
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