Shadowy “Great Schools” Group To Address OB Town Council Meeting – Wed July 28th

by on July 28, 2010 · 17 comments

in Education, Ocean Beach, San Diego, The Chronicles of Edumacation

HimelsteinScott Himelstein, the spokesman of the newly named “San Diegans 4 Great Schools”, has been visiting various civic groups around the city spreading the word that his group is disappointed with test scores in San Diego Unified schools and that “governance” is the problem.

Tonight, Wednesday, July 28th, at 7 pm, he is slated to address the OB Town Council in a meeting to be held at the OB Masonic Temple (1711 Sunset Cliffs Blvd). (See here for our earlier report.)

Last week this group held a press conference to announce the results of a consultant’s report that they had commissioned. Although the information in the report was a year behind in reporting test scores, and it failed to acknowledge that the previous Superintendent of Schools had been replaced, its sponsors stood up before the press to announce that San Diego’s public schools were failing in a big way.

Many of the same people involved in the “Great Schools” group were, interestingly enough, signers of a newspaper ad decrying the departure of former Superintendent Terry Grier, which included a sixteen point list stressing the advances the District made in 2007-8. (You can read the list here.) Now this same group is behind the negative report, which covers the period from 2002 to 2008. Although statistics for 2009 were released months ago, they were omitted from the “Great Schools” report.

Now, spokesman Himelstein is taking their show on the road. A community meeting last week in Tierrasanta turned into a public relations nightmare, with the Voice of San Diego reporting that residents were concerned about the lack of specific proposals and seemingly shadowy background of the group.

fatSchool Board Chief District Relations Officer Bernie Rhinerson wrote Himelstein offering to send school official to these public meetings to answer questions, but received a letter in response from a public relations firm declining the offer. Rhinerson and Deputy Superintendent Nellie Meyer will be attending the OBTC meeting, despite the lack of invitation. They will be bringing along documentation about the latest batch of test scores for SDUSD, showing the areas where progress has been made.

Earlier reports about the “Great Schools” had portrayed the group as advocating for the appointment of four members to the San Diego Board of Education, to be selected via a special citizen’s committee instead of being elected by voters. The group was reportedly shopping this idea to members of the San Diego City Council, lobbying for an amendment to the City Charter to be introduced through a Council vote. They were turned down.

FAILINGBusinessman Rod Dammeyer, who funded the report, tried to paint the picture of a floundering school district at the press conference, telling reporters, “There has not been, nor is there currently, a consistent long term plan to improve student achievement.”

Reading between the lines of the pronouncements made by the “Great Schools” group, it becomes obvious that their real issue has more to do with the direction and long term planning that the current School Board has been charting. “Great Schools” wants a top down, military/corporate system of “governance” for local schools. The current school board has elected to address reform issues by committing to a “community-based” model that sees parent engagement and active involvement in schools will be as a critical element to increase overall student achievement.

“Great Schools” is nothing more than the embodiment of an attempt by San Diego’s establishment to rein in the democratic nature of the school board. And some of us see their effort as merely being a step along the road to the privatization of public education.

We’ll be there tonight watching Mr. Himelstien. And we have some tough questions to ask. It should be fun.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar doug porter July 28, 2010 at 8:49 am

for those of you who are wondering why there is no post this morning about the school board’s surprise decision last night to continue the fight for a parcel tax, let me confess that I skipped the Board meeting to attend a Padres game. The Padres lost, 2-0. The School Board, from what I hear, decided to keep the parcel tax on the ballot after hearing an outpouring of passion from many parents. The parents won 1-0. Now all we have to do is win the next round. Basketball rules will be in effect then, so we’re looking for a final score of 67-33.


avatar Ken Seaton-Msemaji July 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

I like 67-33 !!!


avatar Frank Gormlie July 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

Thanks Doug for keeping us on top of this issue. We’re hoping that parents with kids in local OB/ PL schools will attend and ask Himelstein pertinent questions.


avatar mr fresh July 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

from today’s Voice:
The new group of philanthropists, business leaders and others critical of San Diego Unified sharing its findings and worries at community meetings across the city, it doesn’t want the school district to show up.
“We respectfully ask that you provide a schedule of your presentations to my office and I will work to have a district representative in attendance,” school district spokesman Bernie Rhinerson wrote in an e-mail to group leader Scott Himelstein and Jen Shira, who handles its public relations. “Hopefully, this can be a positive productive collaboration.”
The answer from the school district critics? Nope.
“It would be counterproductive to an open exchange of ideas to have district employees ‘monitoring’ these community meetings,” Shira replied to Rhinerson.


avatar annagrace July 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Gee- the critics seem to be remarkably unclear on the concept of “open exchange of ideas.”


avatar RB July 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm

People still don’t know how to keep score. The parents, administrators, teachers, principals, union members, school board, business groups and all other adult groups are always the winners in the public schools and the students and student programs always the losers. The score is 90 to 10. 90% of the budget for adults and 10% for student programs. They have spent three years gutting the Gate, Seminar, Music, Magnet, etc. student programs.

A year ago the School Board Chief District Relations Officer and other administrator came to Dana for a cluster meeting. They were full of PR and spin but short on answers to basic questions of governance. Question like these were never answered by these highly paid administrators. “How much tax money for the schools never leaves Sacramento?” “How much of the District Budget is spent directly in the classrooms?” “What percentage of District pension liability is funded?

I say let the school administration come but let them come with answers for a change.


avatar doug porter July 28, 2010 at 2:27 pm

i doubt that they could have answered those questions a year ago. things have changed–and some (not all) of the types of question could be answered during the budget hearings this past winter when the Board insisted that zero-based budgeting be used. it took a long time to get this screwed up and nobody’s been observed selling magic wands outside the school board building recently, so things won’t be fixed as soon as anybody outside the administration would like.
if you have questions like this you’d like to investigate and come up with answers for, email to the me c/o obragblog at gmail dot com or (if you think i’m too biased) send them to Fact Check over at Voice of San Diego (they’re always looking for stuff to track down)
the ball’s in your court. put away the whine and start typing.


avatar RB July 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm

So you think I should have to investigate the answers to these questions made by other Point Loma parents? So you think the District is governing taxpayers assets correctly when they don’t know their coverage of pension liability? So now besides fund raising, bake sales, and transporting students to school events, parents have to answer questions of a fiduciary nature for this mismanaged District? What are these six figure salaried bureaucrats for? When the District administrators start having bake sales to fund their offices, I come do their job for them.


avatar doug porter July 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I said >>>>I, ME, MOI <<<< would be glad to help you get answers. If you'd rather just sit around and complain rather than ask, that's certainly your right.


avatar doug porter July 28, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I never suggested that you should have to do anything other than provide me with questions that you felt needed answers. I said >>>I<<<< would do the work. WE could both learn together. People could benefit from the research. Answers could be had. Problems might be uncovered. Who knows?, maybe our kids might even benefit. Obviously you have an agenda that includes just complaining. I'm sorry to have interfered with your past time.


avatar RB July 29, 2010 at 8:31 am

Obviously you are more comfortable attacking other posters rather than the problems in the schools. As for me just complaining, you are wrong again. I would match my volunteer work at the schools with you or anyone else. Please, feel free to tell me how you volunteer at the local peninsula schools. I am willing to help you with any volunteer programs for the students you are involved with at Dana, Correia, or PLHS. I will remind all, there are several volunteer positions at our local schools. Both the Site and Governance committees at Correia and PLHS are always short of parent representatives. Also, the PTA at PLHS has been reorganized into a parent association but needs parent and community members to represent and support all the different student programs. Finally, has all the big talkers out there renewed their eScript program for the schools?


avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman July 28, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Can the OB Rag tell us who’s who, annotated, in this “shadowy group” of “San Diegans 4?” The group’s paid spokesman Scott Himelstein is on a public-speaking tour to push old agendas while exploiting everyone’s present worries about the capacity of our public schools to do the job of educating children during an historic economic downturn. Who IS Scott Himelstein? Who ARE his compadres?

I have seen the members-only list of “San Diegans 4” and I’m sure you can get hold of it too. Your Boss Tweed-y cartoon of a fatcat figure lounging next to his “Save the Children” sign and a cache of money is both funny and too true.

“San Diegans 4” is a reincarnation of the business group — expanded now to include what I call innocent civilians — who brought us the deeply negative regime of Superintendent Alan Bersin, replete with private foundation funding, virulent anti-unionism and charter school giveaways. Among “San Diegans 4” are the same people whose heavy-handed business-bankrolled takeover of public school governance led DIRECTLY to the pendulum swing that got us today’s equally inadequate and short-sighted Labor-dominated Board of Education.

The gullible civilians interspersed among the big-macher “San Diegans 4”
veterans 0f San Diego public school wars may be flattered and pleased to be asked to join the firmament of “San Diegans 4” stars — rich men, philanthropists, a retired State legislator, the director of the ed school at private University of San Diego, among others.

Some of these naive, philosophically conservative civilians care deeply about public education and have worked diligently over years to improve it, but they are now vulnerable to despair over budgets and susceptible to the ostensible can-do spirit of “San Diegans 4,” with its organization set to pay for and publish “polls,” develop “research,” arrange speaking gigs and publicity, actually fund a future ballot initiative and create and disseminate propaganda to get voters to pass their ideas into law.

Like the campaign to pass “Strong Mayor” last spring — which, by the way, was funded by many of the same people — “San Diegans 4” is really about control and absolute power. Based on my own experience and observation, I believe the true interest of “San Diegans 4” is the lucrative public school market of exploitable services, contracts and real estate, a goal masked by their alleged interest in “governance reform.”

Many San Diegans, myself included, are are upset with the present inept and profoundly selfish teachers’ union-dominated Board of Education majority, but that doesn’t mean we need to accept the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing “San Diegans 4” or their draconian undemocratic ideas.


avatar doug porter July 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm

as you accurately pointed out, some of the fine folks that are included in the list of public supporters of the group are “gullible civilians”.
here’s a partial list, covered earlier in the OB Rag.
thanks for coming to the OBRag to comment. while we may disagree–i’ve seen your comments all over, and know that you were on the school board– about many of the details of what ails our system, i think it’s safe to say we both agree that the “Strong Super w/ Corporate Strings” approach that this group is pitching has no place in San Diego.


avatar John de Beck July 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

So one critic of the schools says that 90% of the money is for adults! Do you want us to pay KIDS to teach? Or maybe you want volunteers to go into the classrooms….. A service industry has a high payroll. Education is a service industry. If you are mad at school district spending would you be happy if we spent 90% of the budget on supplies and books and let the kids teach themselves? It is unclear if you fully understand that you must pay people to teach. Would you go to a college that had 50% of their budget for instruction, and 50% for facilities or even 25% for subsidizing their sports program? This kind of simplistic thinking is why paid gunslingers like Himmelstein get people to listen to their stupid proposal to INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT by appointing 4 people to the school board. School board jobs are tough, and not for BEGINNERS! and you need to pay qualified teachers to do the tough job they do.


avatar John de Beck July 30, 2010 at 11:07 am

So it is bad to have 90% of a school budget spent on adults? Education is a sevice industry and people serving kids cost money. A better question would be how much of the payroll goes to people that directly face children each day. I can’t see how a reduction to say 70% of the budget would be good for kids. Or do we just hire kids to teach? Service costs money….that is why most service oriented retailers have lower cost of goods. Compare Walmart, with a high cost of goods, to Nordstroms with a lower COST of goods (Not lower prices) The reason is service. I guess we could spend all the money on books and materials and have the kids instruct themselves, but I know teachers are the most important ingredient in schools followed by others that face kids each day. Anyone want their jobs? Go get a MA, and face the distain of people that want to make you jam information into reluctant kids heads, and give up your family life, and you might get hired. Critics need to walk in teacher’s shoes.


avatar RB July 31, 2010 at 9:40 am

Yes, education is a service industry and one of the few were we are required to pay for poor results. Is there another service industry were seniority rather than customer service determines pay? Is there another service industry that has a defined benefits rather than a defined contribution retirement plan?

Yes it is so bad when 90% of the budget is spent on adults. Yes it is bad when the budget creates nine area superintendent adult jobs while cutting magnet funding for students. It is bad when summer school, Seminar , Gate, and Music are less important than raising the budget for adult benefits or promising a 7% raises without having the funding. Nobody has ever said we should spend all the money on books and materials and it unfair for you to make such a statement when we sit at 10% of the budget for student programs and materials.

As for having kids teach, you need to visit your local high school. The students work the LINK program for incoming freshman and are strongly advised to assist in instruction of fellow students in an intervention period during a one hour lunch.

Cutting student programs is only going to make it harder to jam information into reluctant kid’s heads and cuts in programs for high achieving kids will encourage talented kid to become reluctant and bored.

I am parent of very high achieving students and a support of our local public schools, and I am not a supporter of business or union take overs of the schools. Although we are in a disagreement here, I strongly support your election for another term.


avatar Andy Cohen August 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I think the main point is not that the money is going to adults, but rather the fact that not enough of it is going into improving the results in the classrooms. Too much is being spent on district administrators, or outside studies, not enough on actual teachers, or to adequately equip the teachers to do their job effectively.

The main complaint is that too much is being spent on educational bureaucracy and not enough on actual education. I don’t think that many would gripe if if more money went to bump teachers’ salaries and for more teachers and less on district administrators.


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