State and National Candidates

The SFUSD faces some daunting challenges. More than half of its students live in what the federal government officially considers poverty. About 73 percent come to school speaking a first language (collectively, a multitude of languages) other than English. Too many students lack simple literacy skills. Meanwhile, California is below the national average -- 39th in the nation -- in funding its public schools. Across the board, student test scores in the SFUSD have increased during the past four years. However, some minority groups, specifically African-American and Latino children, are lagging behind their peers by as much as a third.

All that said, this election is dominated by a single issue. The SFUSD's politics split like a fault line between United Educators of San Francisco (the teachers' union) and Superintendent Waldemar Rojas. Shortly after Rojas arrived in 1992, the SFUSD began reconstituting low-performing schools -- a process that involves essentially removing the entire staff from the principal on down and starting over. Staffers lose their positions at the school but remain employed in the district, thanks to their existing union contracts. Backed by a federal desegregation order, Rojas believes it a long-overdue jump-start. Teachers, meanwhile, see it as heavy-handed punishment with unproven results.

Thus far, however, the union has been unsuccessful in persuading the court to let it become a player in the desegregation case that sanctioned reconstitution. Nor have the teachers been able to gain an anti-reconstitution majority on the board. Consequently, the power rests with school board members. And because four of the seven board seats are up for grabs, it could very well be a winner-take-all contest between the union and Rojas.

The two incumbents are at least making a show of supporting the teachers' union, as are four challengers. Meanwhile, the pro-reconstitution (or at least not-anti-reconstitution, which is enough to label one in a category here) faction has three contenders.

Board President Steve Phillips has supported reconstitution in the past, but campaigned for re-election vowing to require a thorough analysis before supporting it again, which earned him the blessing of the teachers' union, which supported him in the 1992 election.

Not surprisingly, United Educators also is firmly backing incumbent Jill Wynns, a longtime board member and teacher supporter. Wynns has consistently opposed Rojas' reconstitution plans.

As for the challengers, the union has thrown its weight behind City College faculty members Juanita Owens and Eddie Chin, along with Jason Wong, a criminal investigator, and Mauricio Vela, administrator of a San Francisco youth center. And, of course, all six of the union-approved candidates also carry endorsements by Democratic heavy hitters such as Mayor Willie Brown or Assemblyman John Burton. That's the way it works.

On the other side of the fence, former Pacific Business Review Publisher Adam Sparks is running with the endorsement of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, former Mayor Frank Jordan, and Sen. Quentin Kopp. He's running a back-to-basics campaign and has blasted the teachers' union for protectionism and court-mandated desegregation via busing.

Mary Hernandez also carries the Kopp seal of approval, along with an endorsement from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Hernandez, a lawyer, didn't pass the union's litmus test on reconstitution, but leans closer to the middle than Sparks.

Also on the ballot is Tom Yuen, whom the union has virtually ignored. Yuen is a San Francisco policeman remembered for absconding with issues of the Bay Times in 1992 under orders from former Police Chief Dick Hongisto. The paper contained an article critical of the chief and cover art depicting him apparently masturbating with a police baton. Yuen's explanation: "I was just following orders."

The Community College Board
Seven people guide San Francisco's piece of the largest education system in the world, the California Community College System. The San Francisco Community College District Board of Trustees oversees a $120 million system, which handles 77,000 students at classes around the city.

Eight candidates, including three incumbents, are vying for the four seats up for grabs. The incumbents carry most of the major endorsements. As races go, the Community College Board doesn't command a lot of attention, which adds to endorsers' clout.

For the most part, the Community College District operates without much controversy. Even the hiring of a new chancellor went by without uproar. One of the district's most problematic issues is the non-credit classes that fall under its jurisdiction. Many used to be administered under the category of "adult education" in the K-12 public school system. In more recent years, however, they've been shifted to the Community College District with less funding than is allocated to traditional college-credit classes.

This is perhaps more important in San Francisco than anywhere else in the state. More than 16,000 people -- primarily immigrants -- are enrolled in non-credit English as a Second Language classes around the city.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the union representing most of the community college teachers here and a key player in this race, has its eye on money allocated to salaries. While the AFT concedes that starting pay remains competitive, it has campaigned consistently to improve the salaries of longtimers, who are "topped out." The faculty is also seeking a greater voice in running the district, which makes it likely to be suspicious of any candidate who even sounds like a top-down manager.

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