Prior to last night’s historic recalls of three school board members by voters in San Francisco, The Daily Beast was already sounding their conventional Democratic wisdom goat scream with a pre-election narrative-setting piece headlined “Silicon Valley Super-Rich Fund School Board Recall Election to Oust Progressives: Those who oppose the recall are calling the effort a power grab by billionaires and right-leaning Silicon Valley investors, some of whom oppose mask mandates.” It was dutifully pushed out by recall opponents:
When San Francisco parents in the area decided after months of frustration that nothing less than a recall effort against arrogant board members would suffice and did what they had to do, they organized their signature campaign under data scientist Siva Raj and programmer Autumn Looijen, who have five kids in their household who attend public schools.
In one of the happy coincidences of history, the two met on Tinder, which owns The Daily Beast.
One wonders what the response from the Department of Justice, teachers’ unions, and our corrupt media will be to the news. Will these cheering San Francisco parents involved in this recall effort be branded domestic terrorists as well? Will their concerns be framed as a racial conflict — recall proponents opposed an unpopular renaming policy meant to target historic injustice and highlighted one commissioner’s anti-Asian tweets — given that they targeted three of the non-white members of the all-Democrat board? And will these cheering SF parents be depicted by complicit media as troublesome wealthy secret conservatives because their work is backed by rich people and covered by Glenn Beck and Fox News?
Of course not, you say. Well, maybe a little. Okay, it’s absolutely going to happen in some form or another. To a degree. Probably on CNN, which was pretty confused by the whole thing.
Listening to these voters voice their problems with the school board, keep in mind you’re not listening to conservatives. You’re listening to liberals, progressives, even leftists.
(The only red hats you’ll see here are ironic ones saying “Make San Francisco Great Again” (really). And not even irony survived Jan. 6.)
But you’re also listening to parents. Parents with the same concerns — about accountability, mask mandates, poor instruction, the lack of reopening plans, and more — shared by parents across the country, particularly by those who lack the time and resources to home school and cannot afford or get into the private schools in their area.
East Coast or West Coast, the parents are fed up with the existing public school boards and unions paradigm. In some areas of the country this might be motivated more by concerns about Critical Race Theory and dumping academic achievement measures for accelerated learning — which is now code for discrimination, you know — while in others it might be simple frustrations with the lack of planning or responsiveness or just straight up abrasive treatment of parental concerns.
The San Francisco experience also highlights another concern prevalent in areas that have seen a dramatic collapse in student enrollment and attendance: school boards and local officials have been loathe to do the hard work of readjusting their budgets to the fact they have so many fewer kids to teach. In San Francisco, the public schools saw their enrollment drop by thousands, but didn’t want to lose the money — so now they face a deficit of $125 million:
It’s important to know that the SFUSD budget, tabbed at $1.16 billion next year, is separate from the city’s budget. Over time, SF voters have earmarked city funds for the public schools, such as a fund dedicated to sports, libraries, and several other programs, as well as an extra property tax to boost teacher salaries, and more.
But most of the district’s money comes from the state — and a huge chunk of that outlay is based on enrollment. That’s at the heart of the current budget crisis. Enrollment, down to about 50,000, has fallen 14 percent in five years, according to Elliott Duchon, the state representative advising the district about the budget.
At last week’s school board meeting, Duchon chastised the board for failing to take action. “You’re still budgeting for probably 55,000 to 57,000 students, and you have 50,000. Are you going to align staffing with the number of students? This happens in every district every year. In most districts it’s a mathematical calculation, it’s not a process,” Duchon said. “This year, you’ve chosen not to do that.”
That taxpayer money is theirs, you see! They already planned on how they would spend it! Pay no attention to the fact they don’t even have teachers hired to pay with it, or that they have thousands fewer students to teach — the warnings of potential layoffs alone are enough to cause teachers PTSD. They should be getting hazard pay for teaching all these Zoom classes!
There are currently vacant positions for 46 classroom teachers and 148 for paraeducators, according to district spokesperson Laura Dudnick. But just because there are nearly 200 open positions, that doesn’t guarantee that nearly 200 jobs can be saved, as credentials, qualifications, and other factors don’t always line up.
UESF president Cassondra Curiel said a lot of uncertainty and confusion could have been avoided if the district had bided its time before sending preliminary.
“It’s hugely stressful,” Curiel said of educators receiving the letter last week. “I find it entirely unacceptable that the most vulnerable, the least paid and the most in-contact with students and families got notices early without the entire SFUSD community knowing how the entire [budget] is going to be balanced. Shouldn’t this assessment be happening holistically?”
UESF and SFUSD reached a tentative agreement last week, which would give $4,000 in bonuses to union teachers and paraeducators this year. Curiel said it would help tide over educators not receiving a paycheck in the summer but isn’t enough.
Oh would rather forfeit the bonus if it means keeping more teachers. Some UESF educators are organizing against the tentative agreement citing that as one reason.
“The bonuses are coming with a cost—layoffs,” Steven Flanagan, a 14-year veteran of Sunnyside Elementary School, said in an email. “It also is a bonus, not a pay raise which I think is a more effective solution for education retention.”
The primary lesson our education establishment has taken away from these recalls is that far too much power remains in the hands of the people to be heard. You can restrict them. You can try to shut them up. When they come speak to the boards, you can force them to stand in line and talk for only 90 seconds. You can use bureaucratic abilities to hide deadlines and parliamentary abilities to go into closed sessions. You can call them corrupt, treat them as subjects, and foment secret social media campaigns against them.
But to really shut them down, you have to prevent their ability to recall you at all. San Francisco seems to already be learning that lesson:
There’s such a thing as too much democracy, you see. That was the real problem all along. It made the parents think they were in charge.