Election Day is one week away and the results will tell us the kind of schools and school leaders we will have. I have two very quick pleas for the public good:
First, if Proposition 30 does not pass our public schools and safety will be adversely affected. In this county alone, up to 11 school districts would be so strapped financially they would be on the verge of insolvency. Our children deserve better. I strongly support Proposition 30. It is far too close in latest polling for the educational and safety communities to breath easy.
Prop. 30’s official ballot argument in support of a “yes” vote accurately portrays the importance of its passage. “To protect schools and safety, Prop. 30 temporarily increases personal income taxes on the highest earners—couples with incomes of over $500,000 a year—and establishes the sales tax at a rate lower than it was last year. Prop. 30’s taxes are temporary, balanced and necessary to protect schools and safety.”
I would have said it a little differently. A generation of children will be harmed if it fails, digging the state deeper into the economic abyss. We as village elders must take care of the children and public safety, first and foremost. Please vote “yes” and tell your friends/neighbors to do so, too.
Second, if you have been following the SCCOE Board race for Trustee Area No. 5 between Anna Song and David Neighbors, I would like to weigh in as a board colleague of Anna Song’s for the last four years. I endorsed Trustee Song, because, as the Mercury News wrote, “Song is steeped in policy and a strong advocate for disadvantaged students.” (Editor’s note: The Merc endorsed Neighbors in this race.)
For the last four years, Song has been the policy wonk of the seven-member board, sometimes discovering important legal precepts that even the county’s professional staff was not familiar with. She spends scores of hours between meetings conducting research on critical votes. Trustee Song has been a fighter for the teachers and for the students in our alternative schools—serving students who are incarcerated, expelled and/or failing.
She and I have disagreed passionately at times, but we always did so with respect for the other’s opinion. We disagreed for a variety of reasons on the December 2011 Rocketship vote for 20 new charter schools, and for the renewal of Bullis Charter School for five more years. Anna and I worked for a year to create the county’s first Charter School Summit, attended by 250 on a Saturday morning in 2010. The goal was to enhance collaboration and cooperation between charter operators/schools and the traditional public world of schools. This work needs to continue with a renewed exigency.
I strongly believe in the sanctity of the electoral process. Voters should decide whom they want to serve as elected office. However, I believe our electoral system is badly broken in America. The vast sums of money spent, on both sides of the political aisle, are too often used for misleading and negative messaging. Fortunately, for the school board elections I am familiar with, including mine in 2008, the critical issues were discussed and no negative messaging infected the process. That all changed in Santa Clara County this year and, perhaps, going forward.
As my readers know, I believe public education is the single most important issue of our day, nationally and locally. It’s increasing importance is evidenced by what is happening in Trustee Song’s race in the 130,000-registered voters in Trustee Area No. 5.
According to a Patch article by Rachel Stern, residents of this trustee area—which includes Milpitas, Santa Clara, and Berryessa School Districts—residents received three different attack ads denouncing Song. Stern wrote, “The group backing the ads, the SCC Schools PAC, is financed almost exclusively by groups and individuals that sit outside Trustee Area 5, including its founder, who lives in Canada. The main funders are Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow; the CA Charter School Association, of which Bullis Charter is a member; Reed Hastings; and John Fischer, according to a filing document from the Registrar of Voters office in San Jose.”
I am saddened that at the very grassroots local level, money now contaminates the dialogue. It is imperative during school board elections we discuss issues like charter schools, student achievement, teacher tenure, teacher evaluations, counselors, career technical education, teacher compensation, strategic plans, consolidation of school districts, management of budgets, technology, etc.
It’s worrisome that the school board election process will become tainted by large sums of outside money. Please do your research on who would make the best candidate for Trustee Area No. 5.
Joseph Di Salvo is chair of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.