Group Seeks To ‘Modernize’ School Board – Democracy Be Dammed

by on April 7, 2010 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Education, San Diego, The Chronicles of Edumacation

USDA 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:


Alan Bersin

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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ernie McCray April 7, 2010 at 11:08 am

With these folks getting in gear we won’t be seeing any whales signing up for amateur night at the Apollo any time soon.
What these people should be doing is sitting down with Richard Barrera, the president of the San Diego City Schools Board, a gifted leader, and work with him and the community to create a rich learning environment for our children.
We’ve already got enough committees and the children are already ready to learn. If I were still in the school district I would share these people’s plans with students and seek their thoughts on what they feel they have to offer them that would be relevant to their lives and/or to the world. The lesson, similar to “finding Waldo,” would be: “Where’s the Bullshit?”
Oh, we cheat our children with our schemes, with our games, with our unwillingness to learn with them and from them so that we can best help them turn a world around as that’s, basically, what it’s come down to: it’s not solely about how they do on tests that seemingly fall from the sky disguised as guides to how well they’ve learned.
They deserve so much better than what people have to offer who once gave this district
a superintendent who was better suited for running a mob. Anyone who thinks it’s okay to put a man like Alan Bersin in a position that’s designed to nurture children and build hope cannot be trusted to do what’s needed to educate children in a troubled world.


mr fresh April 7, 2010 at 1:11 pm

These folks have no desire to sit down with anybody. They have already hired a GOP political consultant (Tom Shepard, I believe) and are planning on putting this before the voters in November.
It will be interesting to see how they go about trying to sell people on giving up their right to vote; I suspect we’re in for a big smear/big lie campaign designed to scare voters. Remember you read it here first.


annagrace April 7, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Doug- what is the rationale for increasing the size of the board? Why appointments instead of elections? Is there talk about requiring a “super majority” to pass anything?

This is pretty mystifying and smells fishy…. Tell us more.


doug porter April 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

The rationale for increasing the board size is aimed solely at placing candidates of the committee’s choosing on the school board; that’s why they want them appointed. the goal is to create or foster gridlock, which will make having a more authoritarian administration palatable. (the last thing these people want is lots of actual parents getting involved in the education process.)
The long term here goal is to privatize education for all but the most impoverished kids. Short term, they’re seeking to impose a more “corporate” model on the education system which quantifies all aspects of learning and reduces the possibility of students developing an independent view of the world and the society we live in.


JMW April 8, 2010 at 1:41 am

Of course, taxpayers will still fund the private education of the non-impoverished, I suppose. Don’t these people already send their children to Francis Parker? You’re suggesting the goal is lock-step learning? Know, don’t think; is that it? Who asked you to think? What’s creativity?


doug porter April 8, 2010 at 8:03 am

Well, yes, taxpayers will pay for some of it; they can’t do it with out corporate welfare. The bright side for these guys is that the dreaded “public employee unions” will be gone. So instead of pensions and benefits for teachers, there will be golden parachutes for education CEO’s. Instead of accountability for results, return on investment will be the most important element in education.
This model is already in action in Australia, where the quality of education is dictated by a family’s wealth, and there is now a popular movement to restore public education.


Larry OB April 9, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Several years ago a local parent told me that OB Elementary was short on students from the local area, and that the school relied on bussing kids from other parts of town in order keep the school open. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t know if it’s more or less true today. I do know that I don’t want appointed politicians deciding what to do with that city block of real estate. Neither do I want folks in the private school industry to have a say in where old schools get closed and new ones get opened.


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