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Mayor's Race Gets an Education Forum

Mayor’s Race Gets an Education Forum

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On Wednesday, the county Board of Education agreed to participate in a mayoral candidate forum on education. Educate Our State invited the Board be a partner, and the data show a thoughtful discussion is needed. Nineteen of the thirty-one districts in the county are located in San Jose, and nearly 50 percent of San Jose’s public school students test below grade level in math and English.

These outcomes should be an issue every mayoral candidate is willing to discuss, even if it comes with some risk to the candidates.

Educate Our State is a grassroots organization founded by seven moms in San Francisco who were frustrated by the state budget crisis of 2009-10. Encouraged by a teacher, the moms held a town hall style meeting attended by more than 1,000 parents, political groups and non-profit agencies. A panel of elected leaders—including the mayor of San Francisco, state assemblymembers, states senators and members of the Board of Supervisors—listened to the group’s ideas and concerns. That meeting led to the creation of the organization Educate Our State.

There is enormous push back about candidates for mayor in San Jose including public education in their campaign. Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold and I met and agreed to disagree about the issue. He is adamant about the mayor not convoluting his/her city services agenda with educational issues.

Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, a candidate for mayor, agrees with Herhold, and last month he wrote an op-ed saying schools are doing fine without mayoral involvement. He calls the mayor’s meddling in education issues a distraction from the real issues: core city services. I disagree.

Councilmember Sam Liccardo, also a candidate for mayor, wrote his own op-ed. “It is certainly true that San Jose’s mayor shouldn’t take over schools. There’s plenty of politics to go around,” he wrote. “Yet if our next mayor hopes to improve public safety, economic opportunity and city services, then supporting public education must become a top priority.” I concur.

In 2006, the Council on Mayors published a 40-page document titled, “Mayoral Leadership and Involvement in Education.” The report concluded, “If schools don’t work, the city does not work. You, the mayor, pay the price whenever you are not involved in education.”

Only some of San Jose’s children are doing well today. Schools, school boards, superintendents and mayors of cities should work together at the highest levels to promote educational success for all. Our future quality of life hangs in the balance.

In July 2012, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said, “I believe education is the most important issue of our generation. … It has the power to provide a vehicle out of poverty as well as bring children a step closer to grasping a piece of the American Dream.”

I believe our forum could fill the City National Civic Auditorium, the venue for Mayor Reed’s State of the City address tonight. I wager Mayor Reed will mention public education in his final speech.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.

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