Rebuild the School District
Professor William Shughart of Utah State University described accurately the inaccuracy of “characterizing government spending as investment.” He reminded us public entities don’t “undertake projects based on expected rates of return, payback or any other sound financial criteria.” And that spending of taxpayer money on highways doesn’t represent investing but rather “spending by another – misleading – name.” I’ll leave the highway issue to a later column as Richmond, Sunset, Lakeshore Acres and other west of Twin Peaks neighborhoods await decisions on closure of the Upper Great Highway and Golden Gate Park’s John F. Kennedy Drive to motor vehicles.
The recall of three Board of Education members, having qualified for the ballot with ample voter signatures, Mesdames Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez and Mr. Faauuga Moliga, face those same voters in a Feb. 15, 2022 special election which needs every San Franciscan to complete the meritorious task of rebuilding respect and enrollment in a wretched school district.
Last month, the physical state of Buena Vista Horace Mann School, which should have been maintained the last two decades by the School District’s general fund operating expenses, inspired school board votaries to instigate attempts to utilize remaining general obligation bond funds to pay such operating expenses while also voting last month to use $1 million of bond money approved by voters to restore the former Commerce High School location at 135 Van Ness Ave. for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts with a modern building.
The Buena Vista Horace Mann school renovation will cost at least $15 million. Public school enrollment declined by 3,459 students in the past two years, thus portending a decrease of $35 million in state funding. You can bet a box of pandemic masks that taxpayers will sue the School District for violating article XVI, section 1 of the California Constitution if the School District uses general obligation bond money for the aforementioned operating expenses without gaining voter ratification of changes.
Public school enrollment for 2021-2022 has declined to 49,435 and the Board of Education estimated last month a deficit of $100 million, while simultaneously, voting to appeal the award of six-figure attorney fees to the successful George Washington High School Alumni Association which sued successfully to stop the folly of removing the school’s murals depicting President George Washington.
It’s also pertinent to remind readers that despite falling enrollment, the Board of Education continues to force parents to participate in a capricious “lottery” system for their children’s school assignments. Commentators like The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley have written of “social activists who are trying to remake public education to their liking” (Oct. 13), recalling school board disputes and court-ordered busing, which began in San Francisco in 1970 when enrollment exceeded 92,000 pupils. Riley recalls the objective of achieving racial balance in public schools by a controversial practice. The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 stated specifically that children’s school assignments must be “without regard to their race” and that “designation” didn’t force students to be assigned to schools to “overcome racial imbalance.”
With a drop of about 40% in San Francisco public school enrollment, why would rational school board members prevent students from attending their neighborhood schools, thereby saving taxpayer money by obviating school busing costs? Incidentally, the cost of streets, sewers, wastewater treatment, libraries, parks, rapid transit, high-speed internet, protection against “sea-level rise,” police and fire protection, emergency response and hospitals constitute most local responsibilities and property owners will soon pay 90% of local government spending, just as they did before 1978’s Proposition 13.
At press time, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon argue over the disenchanting California high-speed “bullet” train. I plead guilty as then-Senate Transportation Committee chairman, of introducing the High Speed Rail project to California with legislation creating it in 1996 and later serving on its governing board as president after retiring from the San Mateo County Superior Court. Blame me for presenting successfully a $9.95 billion state bond issue to voters 13 years ago with a $33 billion cost to link San Francisco to Los Angeles.
I guaranteed taxpayers in specific bond issue language they would not subsidize operating expenses because there would be enough private investment and farebox recovery to prevent that. After I left the Board in 2010, the original plan was scrapped by a decision to build the first segment in the San Joaquin Valley. It’s supposedly from Merced to Barkersfield; it’s actually from Coachella (south of Merced) to Wasco (north of Bakersfield). There’s $4.2 billion unspent in the 2008 voter-approved general bond. Rendon stopped such a bill in the Assembly; he wants the $4.2 billion divided between the Caltrain system on the San Francisco Peninsula and Metrolink in the Los Angeles Basin. That would require voter approval to change the bond purpose.
Now, two contractors – building diesel, not electrified, tracks in the San Joaquin Valley – demand an extra $1 billion, which would increase the cost of that non-high-speed rail line to almost $25 billion. The Authority flacks continuously falsified facts to anyone who’s still interested in this project, which supposedly broke ground more than six years ago, but has only constructed large viaducts and overpasses without laying any track as of last summer. (The project was expected to be completed in 2020.)
Estimated cost has increased to $95 billion, and the first segment now won’t start until 2029 or later. Authority “officials” claim electrification “essential,” which everyone in the project has known for 30 years. They want to hire in 2022 a firm to design and build an electrified track and maintain it for 30 years, but they have no money to do so. Reluctantly, I agree with Speaker Rendon: Ask voters next year to approve dividing the $4.2 billion bond money balance between the Bay Area and Los Angeles County.
As someone said: “The quickest way to get a lot of individual attention is to make a big mistake.” Someone also claimed: “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think.” I return to Professor Shughart’s observation about spending taxpayer money as alleged governmental “investing.” That’s a counterfeit utterance.
Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and retired judge. Find an archive of Quentin L. Kopp’s columns at www.RichmondSunsetNews.com.