SF Green Party School Board Endorsement Questionnaire 2016
Due Date: Wednesday, August 31
Candidate Name: Rob Geller
Phone Number: 415-255-3781
Web site: Rob4sfSchoolBoard2016.wordpress.com
Name of Campaign Manager:
Signed voluntary spending limit: I would
Favorite Incumbent School Board Member: Jill Wynns, because she has so much experience and institutional knowledge and is a great source of information.
Least favorite: Don't have one
1. How are you currently involved in the SFUSD -- or how were you
involved in the past?
For the past 11 years I have had two children in the District schools, one at Lowell High School, one just now going into middle school, and have been engaged in their schools and educations in multiple ways. My wife is a Spanish bilingual classroom teacher, and my brother Lou Geller, was a teacher in the District for many years before he passed away of stomach cancer. In addition, I have mentored District high school students in my workplace through the SF Youthworks program.
2. Why are you running for school board?
I am running to be part of the solution! I am responding to the call by Bernie Sanders to take his progressive revolution local! The explicit role of the Board of Education is Citizen Oversight, and I am a citizen of San Francisco for 30 years. I've worked for the City and County of San Francisco in Public Health Finance for 17 years, maximizing funding for Mental Health services utilized by tens of thousands of San Franciscans who need and could not otherwise afford them. I am running to improve the schools for my two children. I'm running because I don't agree with the decisions the Board made to cut Middle School Honors, 8th-grade Algebra and the GATE program, which were eliminated in the name of "Equity." I think these cuts made the schools LESS equitable, and I would like to look at restoring these three valued opportunities. Equity and excellence can co-exist! We need to find a happier balance between support for the struggling student and support for the higher
achieving student. I'm running because I believe in the transformative power of food and proper nutrition, and would like to make San Francisco the first large district in the nation to serve its students All-Organic, Non-GMO food! We will watch the children really thrive, and close what I call the nutrition gap. I am running because, as a musician, I would like to see more music teachers in the elementary schools. I feel I can offer a perspective that does not currently exist on the board.
3. How do you feel about the current school assignment system?
Would you make changes, and if so, which ones?
I don't love it. My family has had to appeal multiple times to get the schools we want, not always successfully. I think neighborhood schools offer stability and predictability to those for whom that is important, but until all the schools have uniform offerings, which will probably never happen, some choice should always be available. I don't believe test scores should be used as a tiebreaker to determine school placement.
4. How can we redistribute the more experienced and higher paid
teachers throughout the city? What do you think the school
district needs to do to attract and improve the retention of good
teachers who are willing to work in socially stressed schools?
Pay them more! Make all our neighborhoods more affordable! We can increase pay if we repeal Proposition 13. Expand programs like the SF Teacher Residency program in which 80% of the teachers are still with the District after five years. Step up recruiting efforts.
5. Some of our schools receive significant funding from parent
fundraising. Are you concerned about the inequality in fundraising
between schools in rich and poor neighborhoods, and if so,
what ideas do you have to make things more equitable?
Our elementary school fortunately always raised huge amounts of money and this gave us an advantage when it came to enrichment and other school needs. This was a function of living in a well-off neighborhood, with many high-earning parents. I am concerned that some schools can't raise as much as others. I've seen ideas floated for pooling funds from all the schools, and would be willing to entertain this approach.
6. What is your position on JROTC in the public schools?
Some students benefit from the program, learning discipline, leadership, and college preparedness. Students are encouraged to excel in school, which is never a bad thing. Given all that, I would much rather see an Environmental Corps or other Community Service Corps than one associated with so much war and death.
7. Would you support district elections for school board members?
Interesting question! As a candidate for school board at-large, I would say yes, just because it would make life a lot easier! District elections for Supervisor were absolutely the right thing to do, and the City benefited greatly from them. With District elections you can even elect Greens! Sure, let's try it!
8. What do you think of the public comment policy at school board
meetings? How (if at all) would you change it?
When I am elected I will institute a policy whereby the Board MUST respond to every comment or group of comments with a considered reply! I can not tell you the number of times I and others have spoken at Public Comment and been ignored. With me on the Board you won't be ignored! When elected, I will consider every single opinion, and marginalize no one.
9. What is your stance on allowing noncitizen parents, guardians and
caretakers of students to vote in school board elections?
I support this, with the caveat that the ballot box cannot be the ONLY engagement. These parents should also be participating in the PTSA, Site Council, attend Back-to-School Nights, attend Parent-Teacher conferences, etc. Non-citizens demonstrating that level of citizenship certainly deserve a vote!
10. In what ways would you work to increase teacher input in
administrative decision-making? How would you work to increase the
voice of school site councils (parents, students and staff), in
Have Board Commissioners appear and participate regularly in School Site Council and PTSA meetings at various schools. Check in with the teachers more regularly, solicit their opinions, in addition to their voices on the School Site Councils. Perhaps entertain the idea of expanding the Board to include a teacher position.
11. Would you strengthen the voice of the elected student
representatives, so that they could introduce legislation and vote
They already do vote symbolically. Considering that so many votes are 7-0, I don't think their votes would alter the landscape much, but maybe on certain specific issues their votes could count. It would be great if they introduced legislation that could be considered! I'd definitely support that.
12. How do you see the role of the School Board in comparison to the
role of the superintendent?
The explicit role of the School Board is Citizen Oversight. Citizens of San Francisco, no matter their background or expertise, should comprise the Board. We need someone like me on the Board, someone who has a different perspective, and has children in the schools! There are way too many 7-0 votes on the current Board--consensus is good to a point, but often means certain points of view are not being entertained. Every opinion should be represented at the table, even those often marginalized. The Superintendent implements the School Board's policies. He/she should be a professional educator, and must understand the ins-and-outs of the curriculum and administration.
13. A portion of SFUSD income is from rental of various properties.
What changes should the district make to increase the income from
Charge more for rent! That's what everyone else does.
14. What should the district do to make its schools more
Expand the Education Outside program so EVERY school has an organic garden, and every student learns how to grow food. Turn off the wifi when not in use during the day and especially at night, which would save a lot of energy costs. Institute policies to save water, and if we can afford it, filter the water that goes to the water fountains from which children drink. Do the comprehensive health study that I suggest in my platform, to make sure the schools are not contributing to the dramatic increase in recent years of student health issues.
15. Would you ensure that all San Francisco students have access to a
public pre-K program? If so, how?
Yes! Do more outreach and expand the number of T-K classrooms from 16 schools to many more. Partner with the City and County of SF.
16. Do you think Prop 13 needs to be reformed? If so, in what ways?
How will you use your position on the Board to advocate for this?
YES! Absolutely! This is one of the things I've been talking about a lot. Prop 13, which I voted against in 1978 - so you can't blame me! - has starved the schools of up to $500 billion over the past 40 years. The Commercial property tax rate needs to be adjusted upwards. I will use my Board position to amplify the need to reform Prop 13, leverage all political avenues and bring all stakeholders to the table.
17. Have you read Diane Ravitch's book, "The Death and Life of
the Great American School System?" What lessons should the
District take from this work? Whether or not you've read the
book, what role do you see for charter schools in the public
I have not read it, but thanks for the suggestion! I think a limited number of charter schools like we have now is okay, and San Francisco has done a great job of keeping them limited. I've heard good things about Creative Arts Charter and Gateway. Charter school operations must be extra-transparent, and extra-accountable, and not compete with public schools, but work with them symbiotically.
18. What do you think of the District's use of standardized tests?
How would you change them, if at all?
There is an over-emphasis on testing to the point that it takes away time from the classroom and "teaching to the test" often stifles teacher creativity. I would test less and teach more, and decrease the importance of test scores when evaluating the value of a school to its community. Last year, my fifth-grade daughter told me her class wasted the better part of a day just trying to figure out how to use the computers so they could take the tests.
19. How can the public schools better address the needs of Special
Education students and ESL students?
This is a problem--the costs of Special Education are rising every year-just in the last two years SFUSD spending has gone up $17 million. A large number of Special Education positions are currently unfilled, despite the District offering $4,000 bonuses this year, just to fill many of them. We should be looking closer at the reasons for the explosion of need for Special Education services. What is going on with the health of students, with their neuro-development that is causing this increasing need. According to the Sacramento Bee, the number of children with autism is up 7% in just the last year, 17% in Kindergartners, which is outrageous. I believe there is some kind of synergistic environmental toxicity going on, not just better screening and diagnosis as some people would have you believe. When elected, I will initiate a comprehensive health assessment of every school to see if we can figure out what is going on, and at least
determine that the schools are not contributing. Perhaps we should entertain the idea of building a Special Education school for those children who cannot be mainstreamed. We need more well-qualified ESL teachers, and more culturally-competent curriculum.
20. Please describe how you make your political decisions. What is
the main basis for your decision making (e.g., consultation with
your constituents, political consultants, colleagues, unions,
businesses, donors, or your gut feelings)?
I will bring EVERYONE to the table, even those traditionally marginalized philosophically and otherwise. I will consider all information I am presented with, even that which challenges basic consensus assumptions, adjust my world view accordingly, and make an informed decision. I will consult all stakeholders, colleagues, constituents, unions, parents, then my wife and children.