Entrepreneur Takes Over On Neighborhood Schools From “Ragtag Group of Parents”

Neighborhood schools are a pet issue for mayoral candidate Joanna Rees — so much so that the venture capitalist (and admitted longshot to upset Mayor Ed Lee next week) has added a second campaign to her fall schedule: Rees is both chief advocate and primary bankroller for Proposition H, a nonbinding policy statement urging San Francisco Unified School District to adopt a neighborhood-first approach when assigning schools.

Supporting Proposition H means defying the formidable teachers’ union, which has come out strongly against the measure (and who would not likely forget such an affront on the statewide level).

Not one to shy away from challenging the status quo, Rees formed her own campaign committee to support Proposition H and plunked down $125,000 of her own money, records show, and this week challenged the head of the San Francisco teacher’s union, United Educators of San Francisco, to publicly debate the issue.

“I met 1,000 parents today, and if I had taken a poll, I bet 950 of them would say they weren’t able to send their kids to their neighborhood school,” said Rees, who recounted a block in Bernal Heights where 20 parents sent students to 20 different schools.

But it was meeting a seven-year old girl from the Bayview, making an hour-long commute to school in the Marina on Muni by herself, that “pushed [Rees] over the brink on this issue,” she said. “I’ve been harping on neighborhood schools for a long time, and I said it was time to put my money where my mouth was.”

The committee has raised $131,700 in cash thus far, according to records. Rees contributed $125,000 on October 4.

Other than Rees, the effort is bankrolled by non-San Franciscans. The next most-generous donor is a Dana Point real estate developer called MPDSE, Inc, which contributed $2,000. Plunking down $1,000 each were Charles Smith of San Diego (retired), Bernard Sucher of New York (an investor), Harry E Rhoads of Fairfax, VA (Washington Speakers Bureau) and Thomas P Newtown of Atherton (a broker with ICD).

While it was a “ragtag group of parents” that collected the signatures to put Prop H on the ballot, in the words of Bayview activist Omar Khalif, who helped lead that charge, it is Rees who is doing the campaigning — in part because the original campaign, Families for Neighborhood Schools, is dead broke: the committee, which submitted the requisite 7,400 signatures to put the policy initiative on the ballot, is about $17,000 in debt, mostly to campaign lawyers, according to records.

“We were scraping nickels and pennies together just to get this on the ballot,” Khalif said.

With the bank broken, Khalif and fellow proponents Tami Gin and Carol Endo haven’t done much campaigning beyond brandishing signs and displaying support via social media, Khalif said Tuesday. Rees’s money, by contrast, has funded a pair of television commercials produced by a Nashville, TN firm.

Under the school district’s current assignment system, parents select a list of seven preferred schools. If a school has more applicants than spaces available, officials look at a series of criteria called tiebreakers to decide which student should receive higher preference. Only elementary schools have a tiebreaker that looks at a child’s home in relation to its distance from schools, and it is the fourth most influential tiebreaker on the list.

A third group supporting Proposition H, headed by a Richmond District Republican named Chris Miller, was out of money in mid-September, making Rees’s the only game in town.

Opposing Proposition H has been organized labor as well as the city’s elected family, a peek at the measure’s supporters reveals.

“Everyone’s playing politics,” Khalif said, “I’m like, Tim Paulson [executive director of the Labor Council], why are you even on my phone?” More to the point, Paulson and other proponents in labor will probably not be on Rees’s phone anytime soon.

Political observers will ask why Rees is exposing herself, especially if the formidable campaigner — who claims to have knocked on 300,000 San Francisco doors this cycle — aspires to remain in politics past last week.

“I was warned about the kiss of death,” says Rees, but if parents with young children hang on in the city, she could have a pre-made base for a possible run for Assembly or whatever she has her sights on.

That’s a big if, however — some 32 percent of San Francisco families with parents have opted out of the public school district entirely, according to Khalif, and in recent years, the percentage of San Francisco residents of school age has dropped from 24 percent to 13.4 percent, according to SPUR.

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  • KWillets

    Under the school district’s current assignment system, parents select a list of seven preferred schools. If a school has more applicants than spaces available, officials look at a series of criteria called tiebreakers to decide which student should receive higher preference. Only elementary schools have a tiebreaker that looks at a child’s home in relation to its distance from schools, and it is the fourth most influential tiebreaker on the list.

    That is completely outdated and wrong. What was your source for this information?

  • KWillets

    Under the school district’s current assignment system, parents select a list of seven preferred schools. If a school has more applicants than spaces available, officials look at a series of criteria called tiebreakers to decide which student should receive higher preference. Only elementary schools have a tiebreaker that looks at a child’s home in relation to its distance from schools, and it is the fourth most influential tiebreaker on the list.

    That is completely outdated and wrong. What was your source for this information?

  • Eve Batey

    The source is linked to in the first sentence, it’s this article, here:

    http://sfappeal.com/news/2011/04/some-families-frustrated-with-sf-schools-new-school-assignment-process.php

    The Examiner also states, in an article from two weeks ago:

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/bay-area/2011/10/proposition-h-addresses-san-francisco-school-choice-policy

    “SFUSD sends students to schools anywhere in The City based on parental choice while using certain tiebreakers. In 2010, the school board revised the tiebreakers to include whether a family lives in a school’s immediate area, but that carries less weight than other factors.”

    If you have a link with less completely outdated and wrong info, would love to see it so we can update. Thanks!

  • Eve Batey

    The source is linked to in the first sentence, it’s this article, here:

    http://sfappeal.com/news/2011/04/some-families-frustrated-with-sf-schools-new-school-assignment-process.php

    The Examiner also states, in an article from two weeks ago:

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/bay-area/2011/10/proposition-h-addresses-san-francisco-school-choice-policy

    “SFUSD sends students to schools anywhere in The City based on parental choice while using certain tiebreakers. In 2010, the school board revised the tiebreakers to include whether a family lives in a school’s immediate area, but that carries less weight than other factors.”

    If you have a link with less completely outdated and wrong info, would love to see it so we can update. Thanks!

  • KWillets

    Sorry I didn’t have time to elaborate earlier.

    There is no limit to the number of schools that a parent can choose in the current algorithm. That was the only positive change in the move away from the old choice system. Distance to a school is not used, only membership in its assignment area.

    Calling the current privilege hierarchy “tiebreakers” is disingenuous. They are rigid categories where each category is assigned before the next. The categories are:

    1. siblings
    2. kids in pre-K programs in the assignment area (a small number)
    3. CTIP1 (lowest scoring 20% of census tracts) residents (regardless of diversity factors, which is dumb).
    4. CTIP2 Attendance Area residents not covered above
    5. Others, mainly out-of-neighborhood CTIP2 applicants.

    Applicants are assigned to the highest choice school for which they qualify. Then a mechanism called “Top Trading Cycles” (http://marketdesigner.blogspot.com/2010/09/san-francisco-school-choice-goes-in.html) is applied where if you want out-of-neighborhood you can only TRADE with someone at another school who wants your school. So if you live near a popular school, you have a much higher chance of being able to trade for a slot at another school than average, and you’re SOL if you don’t.

    Net result:

    The number of people getting their top choices barely changes (I think it went down 2 percentage points).
    Almost no slots (~1%) at popular schools went to category 5 out-of-neighborhood applicants.

    So as predicted, almost all the choices shifted to the popular school attendance area residents and CTIP1, which is only 20% of the population. The Prop H people got almost everything they want, but they’re outraged that some CTIP1 kids got into Clarendon. They literally call it an “injustice”.

  • KWillets

    Sorry I didn’t have time to elaborate earlier.

    There is no limit to the number of schools that a parent can choose in the current algorithm. That was the only positive change in the move away from the old choice system. Distance to a school is not used, only membership in its assignment area.

    Calling the current privilege hierarchy “tiebreakers” is disingenuous. They are rigid categories where each category is assigned before the next. The categories are:

    1. siblings
    2. kids in pre-K programs in the assignment area (a small number)
    3. CTIP1 (lowest scoring 20% of census tracts) residents (regardless of diversity factors, which is dumb).
    4. CTIP2 Attendance Area residents not covered above
    5. Others, mainly out-of-neighborhood CTIP2 applicants.

    Applicants are assigned to the highest choice school for which they qualify. Then a mechanism called “Top Trading Cycles” (http://marketdesigner.blogspot.com/2010/09/san-francisco-school-choice-goes-in.html) is applied where if you want out-of-neighborhood you can only TRADE with someone at another school who wants your school. So if you live near a popular school, you have a much higher chance of being able to trade for a slot at another school than average, and you’re SOL if you don’t.

    Net result:

    The number of people getting their top choices barely changes (I think it went down 2 percentage points).
    Almost no slots (~1%) at popular schools went to category 5 out-of-neighborhood applicants.

    So as predicted, almost all the choices shifted to the popular school attendance area residents and CTIP1, which is only 20% of the population. The Prop H people got almost everything they want, but they’re outraged that some CTIP1 kids got into Clarendon. They literally call it an “injustice”.

  • Don Krause

    As the primary author of Prop H I want to thank Ms. Rees for her support of the measure and her focus on education in general. Now I would like to hear more about how she, as mayor, would help to make SFUSD schools a better for every student in the district. We know that Carlos Garcia has focused his efforts on the few. I’d like to know what she can do for the benefit of everyone and, more precisely, how the Mayor can influence the SFUSD, which is not part of city government.

  • Don Krause

    As the primary author of Prop H I want to thank Ms. Rees for her support of the measure and her focus on education in general. Now I would like to hear more about how she, as mayor, would help to make SFUSD schools a better for every student in the district. We know that Carlos Garcia has focused his efforts on the few. I’d like to know what she can do for the benefit of everyone and, more precisely, how the Mayor can influence the SFUSD, which is not part of city government.

  • Don Krause

    A better place … ah yes, a better place indeed.

  • Don Krause

    A better place … ah yes, a better place indeed.

  • KWillets

    She sure seems to meet a lot of kids commuting to the Marina from Bayview:

    But it was meeting a seven-year old girl from the Bayview, making an hour-long commute to school in the Marina on Muni by herself, that “pushed [Rees] over the brink on this issue”

    Just last week, I met a sixth grader from the Bayview at a MUNI Stop. Traveling alone, the boy said he had to commute over an hour each way on a public bus to Marina Middle School every day.

    http://www.joinjoanna.com/joannarees/bridging_the_gap_between_the_city_and_its_schools

  • KWillets

    She sure seems to meet a lot of kids commuting to the Marina from Bayview:

    But it was meeting a seven-year old girl from the Bayview, making an hour-long commute to school in the Marina on Muni by herself, that “pushed [Rees] over the brink on this issue”

    Just last week, I met a sixth grader from the Bayview at a MUNI Stop. Traveling alone, the boy said he had to commute over an hour each way on a public bus to Marina Middle School every day.

    http://www.joinjoanna.com/joannarees/bridging_the_gap_between_the_city_and_its_schools

  • Parent

    Joanna seems to be riding MUNI a lot lately 🙂

    Vote No on Prop H — neighborhood school assignment is only great for those lucky (or rich) enough to live in a few neighborhoods.

  • Parent

    Joanna seems to be riding MUNI a lot lately 🙂

    Vote No on Prop H — neighborhood school assignment is only great for those lucky (or rich) enough to live in a few neighborhoods.

  • Parent

    Schools in the Richmond District (where most people backing Prop H live) are heavily segregated. With a stronger “neighborhood” preference, these schools will become even more segregated. That’s what the backers of Prop H want.

    10 % of the SFUSD student population is African American
    24 % of the SFUSD student population is Hispanic

    yet, look at ALAMO and ARGONNE ELEMENTARY

    ALAMO
    .72 % African American students (4 students out of 550) ???
    5 % Hispanic students (28 students out of 550)

    ARGONNE
    3 % African American students (12 students out of 406) ???
    6.9 % Hispanic students (28 students out of 406)

    Forcing people to go to a very struggling school will only mean that anybody with the means to go elsewhere, to pay for private, will do so, and in far greater numbers than we have going private now. In theory, it sounds like a great idea, every kid going to the schools closest to their homes, but it all depends upon which school is closest to your home, doesn’t it?

    VOTE NO ON PROP H, the city’s better schools should not only be available to those lucky (or rich) enough to live next to them.

  • Parent

    Schools in the Richmond District (where most people backing Prop H live) are heavily segregated. With a stronger “neighborhood” preference, these schools will become even more segregated. That’s what the backers of Prop H want.

    10 % of the SFUSD student population is African American
    24 % of the SFUSD student population is Hispanic

    yet, look at ALAMO and ARGONNE ELEMENTARY

    ALAMO
    .72 % African American students (4 students out of 550) ???
    5 % Hispanic students (28 students out of 550)

    ARGONNE
    3 % African American students (12 students out of 406) ???
    6.9 % Hispanic students (28 students out of 406)

    Forcing people to go to a very struggling school will only mean that anybody with the means to go elsewhere, to pay for private, will do so, and in far greater numbers than we have going private now. In theory, it sounds like a great idea, every kid going to the schools closest to their homes, but it all depends upon which school is closest to your home, doesn’t it?

    VOTE NO ON PROP H, the city’s better schools should not only be available to those lucky (or rich) enough to live next to them.

  • KWillets

    Their slogan should be “Quality Neighborhood Schools for All (of Us)”.

    On the one hand, they decry the fact that they have to move or go private if they don’t win the lottery, but on the other hand they decry the fact that some CTIP2 residents are now doing the same thing because they’re now *guaranteed* not to get anything. Their vision is a bunch of middle-class residents who are not them being forced into low-performing schools and turning them around.

  • KWillets

    Their slogan should be “Quality Neighborhood Schools for All (of Us)”.

    On the one hand, they decry the fact that they have to move or go private if they don’t win the lottery, but on the other hand they decry the fact that some CTIP2 residents are now doing the same thing because they’re now *guaranteed* not to get anything. Their vision is a bunch of middle-class residents who are not them being forced into low-performing schools and turning them around.

  • CarolineSF

    Setting the record straight on some of Rees’ misstatements — which the press shouldn’t be printing unchallenged and unquestioned:

    Misleading Rees claim No. 1:
    “I met 1,000 parents today, and if I had taken a poll, I bet 950 of them would say they weren’t able to send their kids to their neighborhood school,” said Rees, who recounted a block in Bernal Heights where 20 parents sent students to 20 different schools.

    Fact: This is clearly intended to convey that all those parents send their kids to 20 different schools because they can’t get into the Bernal schools. That’s eye-poppingly false. Parents can walk right in any day to enroll their kids in the three Bernal Heights elementary schools — Paul Revere, Junipero Serra or Leonard Flynn General Ed. The parents who send their kids to 20 different schools have CHOSEN to send their kids outside Bernal to school.

    This is compounded by a strange piece of history. In the mid-late ’90s, a bizarre SFUSD policy gave Bernal parents nearly guaranteed access to any school of their choice. There was a stampede out of Bernal to the most popular SFUSD schools (staying in the neighborhood was not a blip on the radar). That policy has long since ended, but it has lingering effects – younger sibs followed; different schools’ reps as places for Bernal kids lingered, etc.

    But whatever the odd historical background, the basic fact is that Bernal families can get a seat in a Bernal school for the asking and are CHOOSING to send their kids elsewhere.

    Misleading Rees claim 2:

    But it was meeting a seven-year old girl from the Bayview, making an hour-long commute to school in the Marina on Muni by herself, that “pushed [Rees] over the brink on this issue…”

    OK, first, no parent should be sending a 7-year-old on Muni by herself, so let’s make that point.

    Now, fact: If a Bayview family has a student assigned to a school in the Marina, it’s because they specifically requested it and got it, PERIOD. Barring a strange glitch, there is no SFUSD policy under which a Bayview child is assigned to a school in the Marina. There are no schools in the Bayview that are not easy to get a seat in, and any Bayview family that applies for a seat in those schools is assigned to them.

    By coincidence, a Bayview family of my acquaintance DID have a child at Marina Middle School (presumably not the one Rees allegedly met, unless Rees knocked some years off her age for dramatic effect). When I first heard that, I thought wow, what a glitch, and offered to help them fix it as I’ve volunteered with PPS for many years.

    Nope; here was the story: The family had lived in an apartment off Van Ness, and the child was assigned to and attended Marina MS as it was the closest school. Then the family moved to a larger place in the Bayview. They could easily have gotten a place for the girl at any of the middle schools in or near Bayview (the now-closed WIllie Brown; ISA; Denman; Vis Valley), but the daughter refused to leave Marina, despite her long commute.

    This is the kind of situation in which a child would commute across town from the Bayview. Again, there are no Bayview schools that don’t have immediate openings for anyone who requests a seat.

    Eve, I’m trying to think of a way to say this nicely, and not succeeding, but here it is: It’s your job to check and refute claims like this, not parrot and promote false information. That’s what the press is supposed to do.

    And I have one more question for Joanna Rees. She constantly says that she “had to” send her kids private — and had to eat beans to do it — because she couldn’t get into the SFUSD school she wanted. This is interesting as Rees is famously a Master of the Universe, and a schlub like me was able to get my kids into good SFUSD schools, so she should have had no problem doing it. But here’s the question:

    What school did Rees want? What school was her kid assigned to? What are the distances of those schools from Rees’s place of residence (at the time)? I’m putting this question out there publicly and will await Rees’ response.

  • CarolineSF

    Setting the record straight on some of Rees’ misstatements — which the press shouldn’t be printing unchallenged and unquestioned:

    Misleading Rees claim No. 1:
    “I met 1,000 parents today, and if I had taken a poll, I bet 950 of them would say they weren’t able to send their kids to their neighborhood school,” said Rees, who recounted a block in Bernal Heights where 20 parents sent students to 20 different schools.

    Fact: This is clearly intended to convey that all those parents send their kids to 20 different schools because they can’t get into the Bernal schools. That’s eye-poppingly false. Parents can walk right in any day to enroll their kids in the three Bernal Heights elementary schools — Paul Revere, Junipero Serra or Leonard Flynn General Ed. The parents who send their kids to 20 different schools have CHOSEN to send their kids outside Bernal to school.

    This is compounded by a strange piece of history. In the mid-late ’90s, a bizarre SFUSD policy gave Bernal parents nearly guaranteed access to any school of their choice. There was a stampede out of Bernal to the most popular SFUSD schools (staying in the neighborhood was not a blip on the radar). That policy has long since ended, but it has lingering effects – younger sibs followed; different schools’ reps as places for Bernal kids lingered, etc.

    But whatever the odd historical background, the basic fact is that Bernal families can get a seat in a Bernal school for the asking and are CHOOSING to send their kids elsewhere.

    Misleading Rees claim 2:

    But it was meeting a seven-year old girl from the Bayview, making an hour-long commute to school in the Marina on Muni by herself, that “pushed [Rees] over the brink on this issue…”

    OK, first, no parent should be sending a 7-year-old on Muni by herself, so let’s make that point.

    Now, fact: If a Bayview family has a student assigned to a school in the Marina, it’s because they specifically requested it and got it, PERIOD. Barring a strange glitch, there is no SFUSD policy under which a Bayview child is assigned to a school in the Marina. There are no schools in the Bayview that are not easy to get a seat in, and any Bayview family that applies for a seat in those schools is assigned to them.

    By coincidence, a Bayview family of my acquaintance DID have a child at Marina Middle School (presumably not the one Rees allegedly met, unless Rees knocked some years off her age for dramatic effect). When I first heard that, I thought wow, what a glitch, and offered to help them fix it as I’ve volunteered with PPS for many years.

    Nope; here was the story: The family had lived in an apartment off Van Ness, and the child was assigned to and attended Marina MS as it was the closest school. Then the family moved to a larger place in the Bayview. They could easily have gotten a place for the girl at any of the middle schools in or near Bayview (the now-closed WIllie Brown; ISA; Denman; Vis Valley), but the daughter refused to leave Marina, despite her long commute.

    This is the kind of situation in which a child would commute across town from the Bayview. Again, there are no Bayview schools that don’t have immediate openings for anyone who requests a seat.

    Eve, I’m trying to think of a way to say this nicely, and not succeeding, but here it is: It’s your job to check and refute claims like this, not parrot and promote false information. That’s what the press is supposed to do.

    And I have one more question for Joanna Rees. She constantly says that she “had to” send her kids private — and had to eat beans to do it — because she couldn’t get into the SFUSD school she wanted. This is interesting as Rees is famously a Master of the Universe, and a schlub like me was able to get my kids into good SFUSD schools, so she should have had no problem doing it. But here’s the question:

    What school did Rees want? What school was her kid assigned to? What are the distances of those schools from Rees’s place of residence (at the time)? I’m putting this question out there publicly and will await Rees’ response.