School board incumbent victories could undermine UESF

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Incumbent Sandra Fewer got the most school board voters, despite strong opposition from UESF.


San Franciscans this week saw the end result of long-running teacher union attacks on the re-election campaign of three SFUSD school board incumbents -- Sandra Fewer, Jill Wynns and Rachel Norton -- who were all reelected.

The feud between the San Francisco teacher’s union, United Educators of San Francisco, and the school board was sparked by the board’s vote to protect 14 low-performing schools from teacher layoffs. Every year, the pink slips go out to teachers in San Francisco, but this time around a vote was cast to protect teachers in a “special superintendent’s zone,” established by then-Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

After the board’s vote to protect more vulnerable teachers, the teacher’s union started going on the offensive against the board. “[The union] was very angry with me,” Fewer told us. They told people all over the city not to vote for her, she said, and declined to hold any discussions on the topic. “They told me, you had just better not [pursue this],” she said. 

Ultimately, despite the attacks, the incumbents of the school board were elected with twice the votes of the closest losing candidate. Sandra Fewer netted the most out of any board candidate -- 93,971 San Franciscans voted her in, as of the election day count. They’ll be joined by newcomer Matt Haney, who disagreed with the school board’s approach but not its decision.

UESF President Dennis Kelly didn’t see their conflict in quite the same was as Fewer. “When they made a mistake, we decided to point it out to them,” Kelly told us.

But political analysts say UESF will likely lose some influence in the district over its failed campaign strategy. “The school board now has a mandate to do what it wants to on behalf of kids,” political consultant David Latterman told the crowd at SPUR’s post-election wrap-up yesterday.

Ironically, even Kelly admits the fight they picked wasn’t over an issue that really impacted teachers much. He said that the 70 teachers the board decided to spare was a symbolic move. “They’re temporary teachers, their contact essentially ends that year,” he said. “It was a pointless thing to do.”

Fewer, of course, disagreed. When the district sends out their pink slips annually, they hire back most of the teachers, she said. But when you send pink slips to the younger or newer teachers at vulnerable schools, they often don’t come back.

“If you lose 60 percent of your staff every year, how can you do that and run a school?” she said.

Those schools often have the newest and youngest teachers. And that can make it difficult to retain them once they’ve left. Salome Milstead has taught in San Francisco for four years, and knows that feeling of dejection when that annual pink slip comes in. She started out at the Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the newest schools in the SFUSD.

Like the schools in the special zone that Fewer tried to protect, the Academy serves a diverse socio-economic population: kids from troubled homes, that are usually tougher to teach. In 2008, Milstead and the teachers there had achieved something remarkable: building a new school from scratch. They were a close knit-team.

“That year, the principal got his layoff notice and pretty much most of us got a pink slip,” Milstead said. “We had all worked really hard that year to build up what we had.”

It takes that kind of young, idealistic, not-yet burned out person to go into the more troubled schools and have the energy to teach, she said. After the intense schooling and work training teachers go through, to immediately receive a pink slip was demoralizing.

The decision to protect the teachers of those kinds schools was something Fewer said she had to do, but it was a hard decision.

Kelly said that despite their differences, he looked forward to working with Fewer again. “We’ve worked with them before,” he said. “There were nine candidates in this race, and we were ready to work with any one of them.”

 

 

Comments

As a long-time parent with children in SF public schools, I am very pleased that those three incumbents had the cajones to stand up to the union.

Every parent w/kids in SF public schools eventually has this experience (several times over): Your kid his put into a class with an incompetent teacher. In my experience- 1) a teacher who took every Thursday-Friday off (she had built up sick days over the years), 2) a teacher who assigned reading to her students in class every day and played on the Internet during the period, 3) a teacher who talked about her boyfriends and romantic life for the first 15 minutes of class each day and gave everybody straight A's (the kids loved it); 4) a computer teacher who had to asked her students how to solve software/hardware problems.

Parents complain. The union defends all teachers, bad and worse, under the sacred "seniority system." With enough complaining, you can get a teacher transferred out of your school, but the district merely reassigns him/her to another school.

The 12 "underperforming" schools get filled with burned-out teachers approaching retirement. The young/enthusiastic ones get laid off first, as you note in your article. The dead leaves persist and the young buds are immediately clipped.

Many parents despise the teacher's union (so do many teachers), and the reason is because of the sacred "seniority rule."

So I commend Fewer/Norton/Wynns for holding their ground. Maybe Dennis Kelly will be less brutally uncompromising and more willing to work with the board in the future.

Posted by Troll the XIV on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 8:54 am

As a long-time parent with children in SF public schools, I am very pleased that those three incumbents had the cajones to stand up to the union.

Every parent w/kids in SF public schools eventually has this experience (several times over): Your kid his put into a class with an incompetent teacher. In my experience- 1) a teacher who took every Thursday-Friday off (she had built up sick days over the years), 2) a teacher who assigned reading to her students in class every day and played on the Internet during the period, 3) a teacher who talked about her boyfriends and romantic life for the first 15 minutes of class each day and gave everybody straight A's (the kids loved it); 4) a computer teacher who had to asked her students how to solve software/hardware problems.

Parents complain. The union defends all teachers, bad and worse, under the sacred "seniority system." With enough complaining, you can get a teacher transferred out of your school, but the district merely reassigns him/her to another school.

The 12 "underperforming" schools get filled with burned-out teachers approaching retirement. The young/enthusiastic ones get laid off first, as you note in your article. The dead leaves persist and the young buds are immediately clipped.

Many parents despise the teacher's union (so do many teachers), and the reason is because of the sacred "seniority rule."

So I commend Fewer/Norton/Wynns for holding their ground. Maybe Dennis Kelly will be less brutally uncompromising and more willing to work with the board in the future.

Posted by Troll the XIV on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 8:54 am

By the way, Mission High School (one of the 12 'underperforming' schools) is going through an amazing turnaround.

I recommend that Tim Redmond and all other parents now shopping for high schools for their kids take a close look at this school. Get in on the ground floor, folks.

Posted by Troll the XIV on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 8:59 am

Agreed. Mission is the next Galileo.

Posted by SFUSD parent on Nov. 10, 2012 @ 12:42 am

The union needs to drop seniority and make it so you can fire bad teachers. It's unfair that rich kids at private schools can get a kid fired and others cannot. It's the civil rights issue of our time.

Posted by Fact Check on Dec. 23, 2012 @ 4:13 am

than the rest of us. We're supposed to be an "employment at will" State, so why can't we just fire the worst 10% or 20% of teachers?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 23, 2012 @ 7:31 am