School board race shouldn't be personal

The backroom anti-Brodkin campaign has to stop

EDITORIAL There are plenty of issues to talk about in the San Francisco School Board race. The new student assignment process marks a dramatic shift in the way parents and kids get to choose schools. The district's decision to pursue federal Race to the Top money was a mistake. There are too many charter schools, and not enough money for basic programs. The district has made great strides in closing the achievement gap, but there's more to do. Many school facilities still need upgrades, meaning — potentially — more bond acts. The austerity budget has meant teacher layoffs. Overall, the district is in better shape than it was five years ago, but the goal of quality education for all kids is still a long way off.

This is what candidates and interest groups ought to be talking about. Instead, it seems as if the entire race is about one candidate: Margaret Brodkin.

Brodkin, the former director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth and former head of the Mayor's Office of Children, Youth, and Families is by all accounts among the most experienced people ever to run for the office. She's also strong-willed, forceful, and sometimes difficult. That's what's made her such a successful advocate. Over the past 30 years, she's been involved in almost every progressive cause involving children and youth in the city, from the creation of the Children's Fund to the battle against privatization in the public schools.

You think she'd at least be considered a serious candidate and that elected officials and political groups would give her the respect she deserves as someone who has devoted her life to activism on behalf of children.

But some incumbent board members have been engaged in a full-scale, anti-Brodkin campaign the likes of which we've rarely seen, even in the rough and sometimes brutal politics of this city. It's mostly quiet, backroom stuff — and as far as we can tell, it's not about issues. But they've approached just about everyone in local politics to badmouth Brodkin.

Let us stipulate: there are issues, real issues, progressives can disagree on with Brodkin. We've fought with her ourselves over some of the programs she implemented when she worked in the Newsom administration. Brodkin was far too supportive of former school superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who was secretive and imperious, for far too long. She's also a close ally of board member Jill Wynns, who was wrong on a lot of issues over the past few years.

Brodkin has extensive proposals about education reform that she has discussed over and over; if you don't like them, then don't vote for her. If you think her proposals would be bad for the kids in the public schools — and in the end, that's what this is all about — then work to elect somebody else. That's how politics works.

But the misleading whisper campaign annoys us, and is often based on inaccurate information. Brodkin, we've been told, opposed voting rights for noncitizens back in 2004. Not true — she personally wrote a ballot argument in favor of the law. She told us, for the record, on tape, that she disagrees with Wynns and opposes JROTC in the public schools.

There's also the line (and it's somewhat reminiscent of some of things that were said about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign) that she's hard to get along with, that she won't be collegial on the board. At her campaign kickoff, incumbent Hydra Mendoza praised the lack of conflict on the current board and said she wanted to preserve that — the implication being that Brodkin would bring disunity.

But unanimity and lack of conflict isn't always good for a public board. Too much consensus leads to complacency — and that's always a big problem, particularly when it comes to oversight.

We'll issue our endorsements Oct.


Having Margaret Brodkin on the School Board would be like having Calvin Welch as head of MOH, corrupt nonprofit mafiosi put in charge of controlling the purse strings to a major government agency.


Posted by marcos on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

Brodkin's stance on JROTC is not quite as strong as you indicate above. She would accept it as an after school program, and has no plans to reengage the issue if elected. Here is her response to our SF Green Party candidate questionnaire:

"The JROTC pits two progressive values against each other: youth self determination and opposition to military recruitment of young people under age 18. I share both of these values. I am not running for School Board to re-do the JROTC policy - there are too many other issues that require School Board attention. However, I will work to find alternatives to JROTC where young people can reap similar benefits. For instance, I am meeting with the Police Chief to discuss a police academy program for high school students. If JROTC is brought to the Board, my preference is for it to be an after-school program, like other career exploration opportunities."

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

Human Rights Magazine, 2005:

Human Rights Heroes: Margaret Brodkin, Carol Kamin, Jane Spinak, and Barbara Bennett Woodhouse

By Wilson Adam Schooley

Fittingly, the four heroes we celebrate in this issue of Human Rights are women: Margaret Brodkin, Carol Kamin, Jane Spinak, and Barbara Bennett Woodhouse. ...
Because of that vulnerability, children’s issues present a challenge that is both unique and, at the same time, connected with almost every crisis in the world today. In Iraq, malnutrition among children has nearly doubled since the U.S.-led invasion. In the recent tsunami disaster, many of the dead were children and countless more children were orphaned, with effects rippling across the region, including the need to protect displaced children from labor and sex traffickers. In Africa, perhaps the biggest killers of children are bacterial infections preventable by simple vaccinations. Here in California, a penal system that incarcerates delinquent youth has been revealed as a draconian nightmare that must be dismantled and reformed.

We are therefore fortunate to have heroes like Brodkin, Kamin, Spinak, and Woodhouse, who have devoted their hearts and their life’s work to children—and whose passion and perseverance give us hope for our children’s future.

Margaret Brodkin

Late in 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced his appointment of the new executive director of the Department of Children, Youth and their Families, one of the few city departments in the country dedicated exclusively to young people. Appropriately, his choice was Margaret Brodkin, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, among San Francisco’s most respected and influential organizations, which has long made children one of the city’s highest priorities. As Newsom said at the time: “Margaret has been a pioneer in developing the theory and practice of local child advocacy. Under her leadership, Coleman Advocates’ work is known nationally, and is being replicated in communities throughout the country.”

Brodkin is a licensed clinical social worker who has spent much of her life advocating on behalf of children. In 1991, she was the moving force behind the Children’s Amendment, the first local children’s budget initiative in the nation. This voter initiative brought together a diverse new coalition and created a Children’s Fund that brought in $170 million dollars during its first ten years. The amendment was hailed as a “fiscal bill of rights for children,” capturing national attention for what the Washington Post characterized as a “daring assault on the political establishment.” For the past decade, much of Ms. Brodkin’s work has focused on increasing civic engagement in public policy making for youth, such as through the vocal, forceful youth advocacy organization, Youth Making a Change.

Due largely to Coleman Advocates’ work, San Francisco leads the nation in its child care policies, providing local wage subsidies for all child care workers, funding local facilities, subsidizing and enhancing child care centers, and spearheading the national opposition to the commercialization of schools. Brodkin is an articulate and passionate advocate for social justice for children, and we can expect in her new role that she will lead the way in enhancing the lives of children and youth through innovative partnerships with parents and youth, community organizations, schools, and the private sector.

Posted by CarolineSF on Sep. 05, 2010 @ 11:20 am

who exactly is behind this whisper campaign? i've heard it and want to hold those responsible accountable. brodkin would be a great addition to the school board.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 05, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

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