There is a dangerous shortsightedness about constricting the role of mayor in San Jose and the campaign to only things that he/she can influence. Doing so makes San Jose seem small minded and insignificant. Are we not the Silicon Valley, the economic engine for the state, nation and world? Are we not the 10th most populous city in America? We must think bigger or we will lose out.
Scott Herhold recently wrote that Councilman Sam Liccardo’s proposal for longer school days in San Jose was too time consuming of a project for a mayor. He said it would divert attention from the issues he/she can influence: “good development, the fate of downtown, safety on the streets, bringing new jobs to town.”
I believe economic development, neighborhood safety and filling STEM jobs with our own graduates are all inextricably related to the quality of our public schools.
Herhold asserted that San Jose’s mayor has little influence over public education. “We are not New York City, where a mayor like Michael Bloomberg has vast sway over the school system,” he wrote.
“Instead San Jose has 19 school districts, with varying philosophies and practices. Getting them to work in concert is like persuading the United Nations to agree on Syrian policy.”
In a letter to the Merc editor, I wrote that Herhold’s opinion is misguided. Most school board members would prefer to handle education issues, but within our system of public schools there are neighborhoods and districts that are inherently unequal.
Susan Price-Jang wrote a letter to the editor saying, “Scott Herhold got it wrong… The quality of education in a city affects its economic development, which is the responsibility of city government… We need to breakdown the unwieldy silos of 19 different school districts and city government. I hope other candidates tackle the huge challenge of making San Jose an educational leader among cities. Our future depends on it.”
Equal opportunities begin with a public education system that embodies equity at its core. The mayor can give a voice to these issues like no other school board member or superintendent can.
The mayor should use the bully pulpit to advocate for universal access to high quality preschool, probably the single most important factor in creating equity in achievement. San Antonio’s Mayor Julian Castro fought tirelessly for a narrowly passed preschool initiative last year. Castro made the link between access to preschool and an educated workforce that attracts high-wage employers.
This mayor-led initiative created annual revenue of $31 million for eight years. After the successful ballot initiative, Castro said, San Antonioans saw this as a path toward economic prosperity. “[I]n this 21st century global economy where brain power is the new currency of success, it made a lot of sense to invest this small amount for a big reward in the future,” he said.
San Jose and its mayoral candidates must think big about the quality and role of public education. The status quo is not good enough.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.