San Jose’s Next Mayor Can Lead on Education

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.

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.


  1. “Are we not the Silicon Valley, the economic engine for the state, nation and world?”

    Mr. Di Salvo makes the classic mistake in thinking he and the rest of the area’s elected leaders are cut from the same cloth as those who have made Silicon Valley’s private sector so successful.

    George Shirakawa, Xavier Campos and the entire BART board of directors are recent examples to remind us again they are not.

    In case Mr. Di Salvo has not noticed, the city of San Jose is highly dysfunctional, failing to provide the most basic services to its residents.  A recent news report said San Jose needs 1100 more police officers to be considered minimally staffed.

    Not one of the leading candidates for mayor currently serving on the city council has put forward even the most basic framework of a plan to staff SJPD in the years this problem has existed.

    The next mayor needs to first prove the ability to solve San Jose’s serious problems before addressing education.  San Jose’s schools, while not stellar, have not reached the level of dysfunction found in the city of San Jose.

  2. I would like to see the Board of Trustees of the County’s Office of Education actually propose a ballot measure to fund this universal access to high quality preschool. And I agree that the Mayor of San Jose can throw his support behind the Board for this measure.  As long as no City money is spent on it.

    Would universal access mean “free”?  And doesn’t anyone who wants access already have access to preschool?

    And the City has already demonstrated its support to local schools by forgiving a $600,000 loan to Downtown Charter Prep that employs Rose Herrera’s son, issued a $200,000 gift to Ace Charter School, and in a most galling news yet now has Rocketship School asking the City for a $35M loan.  The same Rocketship that employees Liccardo’s wife. 

    And you want the City to do more for schools?

    • I would vote for “universal access to high quality preschool”.  If they want to extend our public education system to cover younger children, then I’m all for it.  If they want to use public funds to pay the preschool bills for low income folks, then I say no.  If middle class people have to pay for their own preschool, then it isn’t “universal”.

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