Mayor’s Race Gets an Education Forum

On Wednesday, the county Board of Education agreed to participate in a mayoral candidate forum on education. Educate Our State invited the Board be a partner, and the data show a thoughtful discussion is needed. Nineteen of the thirty-one districts in the county are located in San Jose, and nearly 50 percent of San Jose’s public school students test below grade level in math and English.

These outcomes should be an issue every mayoral candidate is willing to discuss, even if it comes with some risk to the candidates.

Educate Our State is a grassroots organization founded by seven moms in San Francisco who were frustrated by the state budget crisis of 2009-10. Encouraged by a teacher, the moms held a town hall style meeting attended by more than 1,000 parents, political groups and non-profit agencies. A panel of elected leaders—including the mayor of San Francisco, state assemblymembers, states senators and members of the Board of Supervisors—listened to the group’s ideas and concerns. That meeting led to the creation of the organization Educate Our State.

There is enormous push back about candidates for mayor in San Jose including public education in their campaign. Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold and I met and agreed to disagree about the issue. He is adamant about the mayor not convoluting his/her city services agenda with educational issues.

Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, a candidate for mayor, agrees with Herhold, and last month he wrote an op-ed saying schools are doing fine without mayoral involvement. He calls the mayor’s meddling in education issues a distraction from the real issues: core city services. I disagree.

Councilmember Sam Liccardo, also a candidate for mayor, wrote his own op-ed. “It is certainly true that San Jose’s mayor shouldn’t take over schools. There’s plenty of politics to go around,” he wrote. “Yet if our next mayor hopes to improve public safety, economic opportunity and city services, then supporting public education must become a top priority.” I concur.

In 2006, the Council on Mayors published a 40-page document titled, “Mayoral Leadership and Involvement in Education.” The report concluded, “If schools don’t work, the city does not work. You, the mayor, pay the price whenever you are not involved in education.”

Only some of San Jose’s children are doing well today. Schools, school boards, superintendents and mayors of cities should work together at the highest levels to promote educational success for all. Our future quality of life hangs in the balance.

In July 2012, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said, “I believe education is the most important issue of our generation. … It has the power to provide a vehicle out of poverty as well as bring children a step closer to grasping a piece of the American Dream.”

I believe our forum could fill the City National Civic Auditorium, the venue for Mayor Reed’s State of the City address tonight. I wager Mayor Reed will mention public education in his final speech.

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.

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.

4 Comments

  1. I disagree with you Joseph. The educational system needs a major overhaul, and so do the people who run it!

    Mayors should NOT be involved in schools. It is not within their scope of expertise, nor are they charged with handling a BROKEN system like yours.

  2. Your de-racialized comment was very welcome:  “Only some of San Jose’s children are doing well today. Schools, school boards, superintendents and mayors of cities should work together at the highest levels to promote educational success for all.”

    The only real solution to the crisis of education is to emphasize the remediation scandal.  Remediation is the name of the very expensive process at each level of education to correct the lapses of teaching at earlier levels. The loudest critics that I have heard are the community colleges who bemoan the burden of teaching the necessary knowledge that high schools failed to do. But remediation is necessary when students pass from elementary school & then to middle school, and then to high school, and then to college level studies.

    Remediation is easily measured, and could build parent and tax-payer support for an end to Local School Fail.  Joe, you never needed to racialize public education, all you had to do was your job as a leader to promote systems that measure necessary remediation at each level and shame the community into demanding an end to widespread Local School Fail. The race-baiting never worked anyway, although I see the Merc’s education writers Katy and Sharon are still at it.

    All the pre-K programs, nutrition programs, and giant bond taxes, as well as slogans in search of a program (Race To The Top, San Jose 2020, and now Common Core) do nothing to address the problem or solutions to remediation which possesses the quality of focusing like a laser on Local School Fail.

  3. The municipal government has no influence on local public education.  Its silly to pretend otherwise.  The municipal leaders should focus on actual problems that they have lawful authority to solve.  There’s nothing the Mayor of San Jose can do about schools located in San Jose.  I mean, he can try and tell people which school board candidates to vote for, I guess.  I think we all have some idea how well that would be likely to work out.