Monday, April 28, 2008

Guest blogger: Rachel Norton

When I was in high school, one of the teachers I most adored was Ms. Pensky (pictured), my 10th grade biology teacher. She was only a few years into her career, and she had a genuine passion for her subject. She took 20 of us on a weeklong field trip to the Mojave Desert, and taught us how to find the incredible natural beauty and biological diversity in that seemingly barren place. It was such an amazing experience that I went on the trip a second year, when I wasn't even in her class!

My experience is not unique. Studies show that a skilled teacher is the single biggest influencer of student engagement and achievement, and yet in San Francisco we have a real problem recruiting and retaining quality teachers. Consider these facts:

--San Francisco has the 2nd highest cost of living of all U.S. cities, and yet 13 other school districts in California alone pay teachers more than we do;

--One in five of our teachers leaves San Francisco in the first three years of teaching. There are two basic reasons for this ñ newer teachers need the most support and are often assigned to the most challenging schools, a combination which leads to early burnout; and teachers can earn more money and pay less to live in other areas.

On June 3, San Franciscans have an opportunity to address this problem and take a very concrete step towards improving our schools: Voting YES on Proposition A, the Quality Teacher and Education Act.

Proposition A institutes a $198 per parcel tax on property owners (business and residential alike). Many districts are resorting to parcel taxes because of chronically inadequate funding from the state of California. Such taxes give cities more control over their annual school budgets and open up an additional source of revenue. No one likes taxes, but Proposition A's $198 per year comes out to about $16 a month, and is quite modest compared to parcel taxes passed recently in nearby districts:

--Albany, 2005: $225 per parcel

--Lafayette, 2007: $313 per parcel

--Kentfield, 2008: $774 per parcel.

What do we get for the money?

--Competitive salary packages to recruit and retain the best teachers;

--Teachers in 25 schools designated "hard to staff" will receive extra stipends for extra work beyond their school day, in order to induce teachers to transfer to and stay at those more challenging schools;

--Teachers in high-need areas--math, science, special education--will receive stipends;

--Newer teachers and those who need to work on their skills will receive mentoring from experienced teachers;

--Computers and other technology will be updated or replaced.

No one likes additional taxes, but virtually every elected official and community leader in San Francisco agrees that Proposition A is essential. Vote YES on Proposition A June 3! Every Yes vote is essential because this measure requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

For more information, go to: To learn how you can help pass Prop. A, go to the PPS-SF web site.

Guest blogger Rachel Norton is a parent of two children attending SFUSD schools and is a candidate for school board in November 2008.


  1. Rachel,

    Thanks for the great post. Even though I'm one of the 0-15 parents, I strongly support this measure. Our schools won't improve unless we support the system. $198/year is a small price to pay, EVEN on top of private or parochial school tuition.

    I wish you the best luck in your school board bid as well. Too few of the school board members actually have kids in SFUSD schools. It will be wonderful to have a committed, caring, knowledgeable person like you to represent us!

  2. Rachel -

    Thanks also for this post. I attended the PPS meeting this past Saturday and listened to Carlos Garcia speak. He seems like a magnificent force -- if anyone can help San Francisco schools improve, I believe he can. But I came away from the meeting struck by how embarrassingly (shockingly) little CA and SF have to spend on our children's education. I was also struck by the difference in the parcel taxes in other nearby cities versus the modest proposed $198 in SF. Really, why aren't we asking for more? In any case, no matter what happens with my children (we too went 0-15 and have no school placement), I completely support this measure. Please get out and vote, and tell all the parents you know too! At the PPS meeting, they said that from poll data, it might take only a few more votes to pass the measure. It requires a 2/3 vote, which is tough in SF since so many households don't have children. So please -- vote!

  3. I too totally support this post and Prop A, and also Rachel's candidacy. Yes yes yes.

    Just wanted to say also that while several BOE members do not have kids in school *currently*, many have sent their kids to SFUSD schools in the past--I believe Shree-Maufas, Wynns, and Yee. Mar and Mendoza are current parents. Kim and Sanchez do not have kids but have worked with kids (Kim through non-profits and Sanchez as a teacher).

    I do not always agree with every one of these folks (especially in the past when there was division and rancor over stupid issues--this has improved), but truly do not think these folks are hostile to public schools or to our kids. Also, they have taken on a hard, time-consuming job for very little stipend. I know I could not do it at this point in my life with two kids and a full-time paying job. Probably few current parents could in this day and age.

    Caroline wrote a post about this over at the site. I'm not Caroline, but I am repeating her main points here, because I think she is right. The school board's biggest problem is not of its making, namely, lack of adequate funding for the challenges to be faced. I wouldn't dis them for not having kids in the schools per se.

    All that said, there is a point to be made that current parents bring a unique and important perspective to the board. Rachel posts here and reads the posts, and will certainly bring some understanding of the frustrations vented here to the school board.

    And of course, Prop A--YES. I am a homeowner who will gladly vote for that one and work on my neighbors to do so as well. I believe the 2/3 margin will be close, so every vote counts.

  4. This is great. I printed out flyers for my window in english and spanish here:

  5. Anon at 2:05 -
    The reason we're not asking for more is quite simply that at higher amounts, the voters are much less likely to vote YES. $198 is the highest level that gives us a fighting chance. But we still have to mobilize all those yes votes to get to 66.7%!

  6. I'm disappointed that Kate has chosen as a "guest blogger" someone who has an obvious agenda -- putting forward her candidacy for the school board. But I'm glad to see that Rachel did not waste her opportunity here for free publicity. No she didn't -- she put up a posting that is a barely concealed attempt to gain the backing of the all-important teachers union. As those of us who have watched school board elections know, only teachers union-approved candidates win. A thumbs-down from the union can kill a candidacy (see, for example, Dan Kelly). Is this what is going to happen to this blog?

  7. 4:56 - Here I was thinking thank christ for a guest blog / comment of substance.

    Thanks for your concern, but I (and I imagine the majority who read this) can work out the agenda myself. If we don't talk about this here what is the purpose now of this blog? I'm fed up with discussing private v public, reasons why the lottery sucks and how everything was so much worse back in the day... it's time for the blog to move on. It's not like Kate has not waited long enough for someone to contribute. What would you prefer to be reading in a guest blog?

  8. THanks, 2:10! I think it's wonderful and adds a crucial perspective when someone with kids currently in SFUSD CAN serve on the Board of Ed -- I just don't think we should flat-out fault other BOE members for not being in that situation.

    See also my anecdote in that same sfschools post on a BOE member having to make a flash decision whether to dive under the desk when a public speaker at a heated meeting reached into her purse. It does make you wonder why anyone would want that job.

  9. Anon at 4:56 is obviously that sort of silly person who complains about Unions and about property taxes going up but probably blows 198 bucks a month at Starbucks, sipping lattes and WHINING about it all.

    Or perhaps Anon 4:56 is an embittered ex-candidate who did not manage to get union backing? GEE, I WONDER WHY?

    In either case -- it's a big ridiculous stretch to suggest that supporting Proposition A and wanting to pay teachers more money is nothing more than Ms. Norton's "attempt to gain the backing of the teacher's union". Get real. No parent I know objects to the idea of paying our kids' teachers more. Teachers are what make schools great! If we don't pay our teachers enough they will all move to other districts to teach.

    I'm excited that a parent of children who actually attend SFUSD schools is running for Board of Ed -- YOU GO GIRL!!!

  10. 4:56:
    The only point of your comments seems to be to attack Rachel.

    You wrote: "only teachers union-approved candidates win".

    At least bother to get your facts straight:
    Jane Kim wasn't endorsed by the teacher's union and she got elected, and by the most votes.

    The union backed Bob Twomey last time and he didn't win. Maybe he didn't win because he went around on the campaign trail saying: "I chose to send my children to public schools" but what he didn't mention was that after elementary school, he took his kids out of SFUSD and sent them all to private schools.

  11. I hope this measure passes, but I wanted to offer a reality check.

    Millbrae is having a parcel tax election in June, asking for only $78.00 a year. Last year, Millbrae tried to pass this same tax with the same amount, and it was voted down.

  12. Anon at 4:56 responds -- Actually I don't drink coffee, and I'm not anti-union, just anti a union that focuses too narrowly on its own needs at the expense of kids. And frankly I didn't get my facts wrong -- the fact is that no one gets on the Board without the teachers union tacit (or express) approval. Dan Kelly was on the Board for years until he made the mistake of crossing the teachers union over one issue -- giving teachers priority in the lottery system in getting their kids into the better public schools in SF. You see Dan had the crazy idea that everyone should be subject to the same system, with no preferences simply because they work for the school district. The teachers, of course, don't want to be subject to this crazy system for all the reasons spelled out so eloquently on this blog and so . . . they booted Dan at the first opportunity. Good luck, Rachel, you are going to need it! Oh, and lastly, I am still disappointed in Kate for doing this. This blog represented one place for all the parents here to vent their frustrations, without all the political correctness of sites like the Parents for Public Schools and all their rah-rah stuff. Anyway, since she did it, I hope she gives equal time to all the Board candidates.

  13. Umm, Anon 4:56 and 9:22, so you want all the BOE candidates to post how they feel about Proposition A?

  14. Lorraine from PPS here:

    As Executive Director of PPS I asked Rachel to serve with me as a fellow PPS representative on the Prop A Campaign Steering Committee. Rachel had been involved with many of the issues and feedback that went into the formation of the measure as far back as January 2008 as a trained facilitator among the 900 parents reached in the "Community Conversations about San Francisco Public Schools: Student Enrollment, Recruitment and Retention". A great deal of the feedback from this work went into the formation of Prop A - especially more teacher training, accountability and incentives as part of the increased overall compensation to be more competitive with neighboring cities.

    As parents of all sorts are a critical group to target to get the measure passed, we both thought this forum would be a great place to inform a wider group of parents. Also, as Kate asked for guest bloggers, we both felt this was a good opportunity to spread the word. Rachel has been a tireless volunteer for PPS for this and many, many other things to help support public schools and public school parents.

    Hopefully, you will see this for what it is: an opportunity to help inform voters to help pass a measure that is long overdue for teachers in our City.

  15. Rachel,

    This is the first I have heard of your candidacy, but I am delighted that you, as an actual parent of SFUSD students, are running. We need more parents who have spent considerable time in the classrooms and hallways of public schools and have done the grunt work as parent volunteers on our school board.

    Buena suerte!

  16. Rachel Norton is a parent of two elementary school children who has freely given of her time not just to work on behalf of her own school, but to help every school, via her involvement with Parents for Public Schools, with the Citizens Advisory Council for Special Education, and now with her hard work on getting Prop A passed, so that all of our children can have great teachers. If we had more caring, committed people like Rachel, this school district (and the world) would be a better place for our kids.

    I can't urge everyone strongly enough to vote for Prop A, and to make sure your neighbors and friends do too. This is not about whether or not you support the teachers union (I don't), but whether or not you support your own child's teacher (I emphatically do!)

    It really troubles me to see parents on this blog taking pot shots at each other over the slightest thing. Get a grip, folks - we are in this for the next 13 years, and we need to work together and support each others' efforts to make the schools better for all of our children. If you are going to be nasty and start sniping before your child is even in Kindergarten, how do you ever expect to be able to build the kind of communities that formerly overlooked (but now prized) schools like Miraloma, Flynn, and McKinley offer?

    To anyone who wants to criticize Rachel for her advocacy and involvement in school issues, I have a question - what have YOU done to make the schools better, hmmmm?

  17. Agreed with the posting above.

    So now, back to the subject at hand - does anyone have any questions about Prop A? Let's help get out the vote!

  18. PPS has set up two member phone banking nights at the offices of UESF, 2310 Mason St. (at Bay St.); May 8 and May 12 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. If you can help, call PPS at 861-7077 or email info "at" .

    ALSO if you can display a window sign we have set up distribution points all over the City. Email rachel "at" for a list of distribution sites where you can pick up a sign.

  19. rachel - or anyone, do you have to be a registered voter to vote on this proposition? or is it covered under some city resident regulation? as you can imagine there are many non citizen property owners in this city who send their kids to public school and who would love to support this measure, my partner and i are just two. unfortunately non citizens are not allowed to register. can anyone confirm?

  20. 9:34, your impression is correct. I don't think non-citizens are allowed to vote in this or any other election.

  21. Rachel,

    will you post here the sign pick-up places?


  22. Sure - Here they are, with more being added all the time, so if none of these places are convenient for you, email me at rachel "at"

    bensdad415 “at”

    barrie.simpson “at”

    lmilvy “at”

    crystalsbrown “at”

    PPS offices - The Women's Building
    3543 18th Street #1, San Francisco, CA 94110
    Phone: 415-861-7077 (signs will be outside office door if no one is there)

    zoochryss “at”

    staceyleyton “at”

    rachel “at”

    lorraine “at”

    7th Ave – redfishantiques “at”
    18th Ave - vicmartinez77 “at”

  23. Thanks for all your work on this, Rachel!

  24. I hate to quibble on legal text but I am concerned about the wording, "and staff" in the proposition. Could someone clarify these positions? Are they the administrative and clerical staff of the individual schools or the administrative staff at the SFSUD main office.

    Also, I believe this proposition should have been extended to include renters as well. Currently, only property owners must pay the tax. Renters are given a free pass.

  25. 8:11, can you quote the part of the proposition you're referring to that talks about staff? I might be able to clarify if I can see the context.

    As far as renters being exempted, one thing to be aware of is that the Rent Board is the body that ruled that renters were exempt - the Proposition was worded neutrally and there was some question when it was first placed on the ballot whether renters were or were not exempt. The Rent Board ultimately did rule that renters were exempt, a ruling that could have been overturned by the Board of Supervisors but wasn't.

    But all of that is politics: the bottom line is that this is a VERY modest tax as parcel taxes go; it is good for the city and property owners as a whole, and IF we can realize the promise in our schools that Prop A makes possible, it will repay property owners many times over.

    I think that Prop A is asking property owners to invest in schools, and I think it's a worthy investment - at $198 a year indexed at 5 percent inflation (way higher than we have now, BTW) for 20 years, a small property owner (assuming you are not now and will not become a senior citizen during that period, in which case you would pay LESS) will pay around $6,500 total in extra taxes. Does anyone here think that's a bad deal if it means you can send your kids to public school K-12?

  26. It's unthinkable that a school bond measure won't pass in SF where 3/4 of the voters are renters. As the owner of a small condominium purchased before the Real Estate boom following 2000, I really resent the fact that Prop A will require the same cost for all properties rather than a cost proportional to the property's value. I also don't see how increasing the salaries of tenured teachers is going to have a big impact on education. (Better salaries for beginning teachers still paying off student loans could have an impact.) But I guess I'll just have to hold my nose and vote for it.