October 5, 2001


Los Intrusos ... Another Episode in the San Diego Unified School District Novela

By Yvette tenBerge

As I sit down to produce yet another piece on the San Diego Unified School District, the ridiculous nature of this week's chain of events has finally convinced me that the production run by Superintendent Alan Bersin, with its excentric characters and its dramatic developments, blows even the most popular novelas out of the water. So, grab a cold drink, pull up a chair and sit back - only in America, folks.

Along with the countless parents, teachers and community members who have been following the antics of this particular school district, I am continually surprised by the storm of activity that brews within its walls.

John de Beck holds up the colorful postcard that the District paid over $60,000 to produce and mail. It served to "inform" parents and employees about STAR test results. Frank Lucero, an SDUSD teacher, sits to his right.

I picture Anthony Alvarado, our rarely seen Chancellor of Instruction, sitting low in his office chair, his hands clasped together under his chin as if in prayer. What "new and improved" educational theory can he spoon-feed our children today? I picture Alan Bersin, our well-tanned and well-connected Superintendent, having to balance a jam-packed social life with all of these petty school district matters. I picture our board majority, confused as to why so many whiny parents and teachers don't realize a good thing when they see it.

It's not that we expect these busy minds to sit back and let the world pass the 143,000 children under their care by, but I, for one, am continually amazed at their ability to create the piles of garbage under which they bury themselves.

SABER... Where's the Dough????

Latest on the list of promises that are on the verge of being broken is the SABER issue. You remember this episode, right? The Sherman Heights community decided to stand up and fight before the district appropriated the last of three grants that their beloved program, SABER, had applied for and rightfully earned. After one of the toughest battles fought yet, the community banded together to face the school board and Mr. Bersin. Mothers, teachers and children read carefully prepared speeches, at times throwing their notes aside to speak passionately from the heart.

Miraculously, it seemed that their efforts paid off. In an August 29 meeting, Valerie Voss, the principal of Sherman Elementary, announced that one of these grants, a 21st Century Grant totaling almost $600,000, would be returned to the SABER program. The reason given for the three-month hold up was that Ms. Voss had been given "bad legal advice" from one of the district's employees.

Georgia Malcolm, the executive director of the SABER program and the school
psychologist at Sherman Elementary, gathered the community together to celebrate this victory. Through all of the triumph and celebration, though, she remained anxious. Could it be that Ms. Malcolm sensed that the district had something up its sleeve? Whether or not Ms. Malcolm or any of the other employees suspected anything amiss, they tried to look at the bright side and pushed forward.

Well, more than a month has passed since the district announced that SABER would be awarded their money A.S.A.P., and guess what: the money still sits with the district, and the paperwork hasn't moved from the legal office. What's the hold up? We'll find out what SDUSD has to say after a Friday, October 5 meeting. Something smells rotten to everyone watching, though, and we are watching.

September 25 Board Meeting
What I'd like to know is when the district is going to realize that they can charge admission for these things. I mean, I pay nine bucks to go see movies on Friday nights, and these little "get-togethers" that the district throws are much more entertaining. Implementing Mr. Alvarado and Mr. Bersin's costly Blueprint for Student Success doesn't come cheap, as we all know. The district could put the price of admission toward buying more "educational" books such as, "Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants" which was found in a seventh grade classroom.

Two and a half hours into this meeting, Board Member John de Beck and SDUSD math teacher Frank Lucero presented the rest of the board and the community with their analysis of the 2000 and 2001 data, data which the district tried hard to gloss over. They did this by mailing out expensive, brightly colored postcards that read, "San Diego City Schools: Steady Progress," and by focusing on comparisons of 1998 data and 2001. By comparing the data from 1998 and 2001, and by ignoring the years 1999 and 2000, the district camouflaged the drop that occurred since the Blueprint came on board. Seeing as how the Blueprint was not fully implemented until 1999, Mr. de Beck and Mr. Lucero, as well as many others in the community, wanted to see just what these pricey programs had to offer our students. (Information on the drop in scores from 2000 to 2001 and a widening of the achievement gap was published in La Prensa on August 24, 2001.)

Well, let's just say that the Superintendent and the three-board majority looked like very unhappy campers after Mr. de Beck's presentation. After taking some time to gather their thoughts, Board Member Ed Lopez passionately argued for an independent, third party analysis. Board Member Ron Ottinger reminded everyone that it was election year and that Mr. de Beck had just "held a press conference at a board meeting." Mr. Bersin pointed to "inconsistencies" in Mr. de Beck's comments and said that "nobody has ever claimed that the Blueprint is what actually accounts for the gains." He topped this off by saying that "nobody ever sought to take credit" for any gains - what was that again, Mr. Bersin? Board Member Frances O' Neill Zimmerman finished in as strong and feisty as ever and complimented Mr. de Beck on his fearlessness and on his constant efforts to get the word out to the public.

So, I wonder - was Mr. Lopez full of hot air when he requested the third party analysis? Now that's something we'd all like to see happen... just hope it doesn't get swept under the table like everything else that the district wants to keep hidden.

Just When You Thought You Had Seen It All... Death Threats Between Board

Needless to say, September 25 didn't go very well for the some of the board members. Things seem to have gotten especially bad for Board President, Sue Braun. This is understandable seeing as how she's responsible for keeping things neat and tidy, and for making it at least appear that the ship is on course.

Ms. Braun's frustration boiled over, and in an e-mail addressed to Mr. Ottinger, (Mr. Ottinger's response reached at least five other people, thus leaving bread crumbs) she asks for suggestions on how to keep control of these meetings. She ended her e-mail by saying that the "only other idea I have is to shoot the both of them [Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. de Beck]. I was thinking of a way to get them both with one bullet, but now I think they are too heavy for that to work."

Whoops! Death threats really haven't been considered politically correct since the Santana shooting. The list of problems that Ms. Braun may have racked up with this careless comment is long, but I'll just offer a few. First, she threatened a public official. Second, she violated the Brown Act. According to the Brown Act, board members must discuss their business in view of the public. As soon as Ms. Braun approached or discussed board policy with a voting majority, in this case Mr. Ottinger and Mr. Lopez, she violated this act. I wonder what kind of example this sets for our kids: if people don't agree with you or they are getting on your nerves, just threaten to shoot them. Problem solved.

I hear strong rumors that Mr. de Beck is considering pressing criminal and civil charges. Ms. Braun has allegedly responded by hiring a private detective to find out who in the world told Mr. de Beck about her e-mail. Her money and time might be better spent, though, getting out of the Blueprint, stolen funds and death-threat scandals rather than trying to find each of the many flies on the walls of SDUSD.

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