A by-invitation-only committee has been holding closed door meetings in recent months at the University of San Diego campus to discuss concerns with the future of the San Diego Unified School District. Attempts by the news media to report on the meetings have been blocked. According to a spokesperson with the District, sitting Board of Education members have also been excluded. In other words, it’s hush-hush.
A crack in the veil of secrecy emerged last week by way of a report in Voice of San Diego:
“A private group of educators, philanthropists, business leaders and others are polling San Diegans about whether they want to see appointed members added to the San Diego Unified school board, according to parents who have gotten phone calls about the new proposal.
The survey asks parents whether they would want to see four appointed members join the five existing elected trustees to make up a bigger school board with nine trustees. The new members would be appointed by a community committee that could include university leaders, labor union representatives and other local leaders. Phone pollers asked parents about who they’d want on the committee.”
Based on the types of the polling questions being posed, it would appear that this group is leaning towards placing a measure on an upcoming ballot. And it would seem that good old fashioned democracy isn’t the best path towards overseeing the operations of our public local school system, in this group’s eyes.
Who are these people? And why isn’t electing a school board working for them? Good questions. Let’s start with the who:
Most of the names that have been publicly identified with this effort have two things in common: a) they are of the Republican persuasion and b) they were formerly associated with the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Round Table group. Among those identified are:
Rod Dammeyer, a trustee of the Scripps Institute, and director over at High Tech High. In the past two election cycles he was a contributor to both the Bush and McCain campaigns, so his political leanings are obvious.
Ben Hadid, formerly Governor Pete Wilson’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Cabinet Secretary. He held similar positions with form San Diego Mayor Susan Golding and Congressman Bill Lowery. His involvement with education dates back to the mid-1990’s, when shortly after being ousted from a leadership position in the Chamber, officials admitted to violating state and federal laws in 1996, when $12,000 was donated to San Diego School Board candidates through the chamber’s political action committee.
Ginger Hovenic, formerly president of the Chamber’s Roundtable and currently Associate Vice President at Alliant International University.
Scott Himelstein, director of the Center for Education Policy and Law at the University of San Diego, is one of moving forces behind this group. From 2005 to 2007, he was the California deputy secretary of education, then acting secretary of education.
William D. Lynch, is most likely providing the funding for the group, given his long association with Himelstein, who was formerly president of the William D. Lynch Foundation for Children. Lynch also a member of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board. Lynch is also the source of funding for the USD Center for Education and Law Policy, the group hosting the meetings.
The Why? Explained
This group has its origins back in the reign of former Superintendent Alan Bersin, whose tenure at the helm of San Diego Unified still provokes heated discussions in local circles. Suffice it to say that his ‘top down’ style of management didn’t endear him to many. As former principal Ernie McCray says:
“…whales will be dancing at the Apollo before Alan Bersin works in collaboration with anyone, before he listens to anybody, before he treats anybody with the human respect and understanding they need to feel satisfied that they’re contributing to the creation of a better world… …He took us principals on a yacht cruise around the harbor and before we had barely sailed he made it clear that parents would have very little to say regarding what happened in our schools. Wasn’t long before that was old news.”
On the other hand, there were people around town who thought very highly of Bersin’s style. Like the Chamber of Commerce types listed above in this story. And the non-chamber types who are enthralled with top-down, authoritarian styles of management.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that this little ‘education cabal’ is looking towards a non-democratic route of ‘modernizing’ (that’s a marketing word under consideration) the local school board. The fact is that the candidates they backed in the last couple of school board elections have lost. So democracy is now an inconvenient institution and they’re looking for another way.
Now you know. Don’t let them undermine your power to vote. Excuses are for losers. And that’s what these people are.