Time for action on Sac High

Elections have meaning. We don’t always like what they mean, but we should at least try to understand them.

That’s true whether we’re electing representatives to go to Washington, D.C., or to sit on the local school board.

Take, for example, the local elections for the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Trustees.

All three of the candidates backed by the Sacramento City Teachers Association won their elections.

Does that mean, as The Sacramento Bee tells us, that the union has too much power? Or does it mean that voters are simply more simpatico with teachers than they are with anti-union candidates pushing “reform”?

Nothing so complicated. It seems more likely that voters just picked local candidates who they most trusted to address the concerns of their particular neighborhoods.

That was certainly true in Area 2, covering East Sac, Midtown and Elmhurst. “The biggest issue in the area is a lack of a public, comprehensive high school,” Jeff Cuneo, the guy who won that election, told Bites.

More than test scores or unions or all those “bad teachers” we keep hearing about—voters in Area 2 wanted a candidate who would do something to replace the neighborhood high school lost when Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope organization took over Sacramento High School and turned it into a charter school.

The Bee didn’t like that message, and published an editorial last week which called the Sac High issue “merely a distraction.”

But it seems Team Scoopy is deliberately misreading the meaning of the election, and worse, telling families in those neighborhoods that their concerns are trivial.

What is more important to the Bee—and to Mayor Johnson, and to the group of “reform” candidates who lost—is a fairly ideological agenda, cribbed right from Waiting for ‘Superman.’

That agenda starts with, in the Bee’s words, “teacher evaluation based on multiple measures—including student test scores.” Problem is, Sacramento voters didn’t seem to care too much about that agenda.

They might be more interested in 2012, assuming the reformers can field some candidates who are better at articulating why things like more testing, ending teacher tenure and merit pay are really in the interest of families, and not just an attack on teachers unions.

And if the mayor wants to see reform candidates elected, he’ll have to actually do something on their behalf—like campaign for them.

As for Sac High, Bites is not saying that Johnson’s charter experiment has been a failure. Backers rightly point out that test scores and graduation rates have gone up. But teachers at other campuses have long complained that Sac High is able to push out students that aren’t performing academically, in ways that the neighborhood public school simply can’t. Attendance has dropped to half of what it’s supposed to be, and the school building is terribly underutilized.

Whatever your definition of success, Sac High is clearly not for everyone, and it’s not a substitute for the comprehensive public high school that went away. Parents who don’t want to send their kids to a St. Hope charter school want another option, and they made that clear at the polls. “Sac High is a part of a larger conversation, given the history of the school site and its current situation,” Cuneo explained.

Certainly, Sac High doesn’t have to be closed down. But the district is finally going to have to address the problem, and Cuneo can help lead the way. It’s not a distraction. It’s what this election meant.