There’s more at stake in this year’s Sacramento City Unified School District election than who will represent four of the seven area districts on the board of education.
There’s a chance that the teachers union could gain a majority on the board on Nov. 4. If that happens, it means that the agenda of the union – which may or may not mesh with that of teachers, parents and students – will prevail over all else. That’s not a healthy arrangement for a district already suffering from declining enrollment and a dismal academic reputation.
That’s why we recommend that voters give the three incumbents – Jay Hansen in Area 1, Jeff Cuneo in Area 2 and Darrel Woo in Area 6 – each another term and choose Jessie Ryan to fill the open seat in Area 7.
It’s rare to find the perfect candidate for any job. But Ryan, a mother of two from Oak Park, is as close to perfect as one could hope to find. She’s deeply involved in the community, has a broad understanding of education policy and works as an advocate for higher education as associate director in the Sacramento office of the Los Angeles-based Campaign for College Opportunity.
She’s also a model of what happens when things go right in Sacramento schools. From a hardscrabble upbringing while attending Sacramento city schools, she was fortunate to reach college. She wants to focus on helping others achieve the same goal by creating better pathways to college. She also says she will champion the arts in schools.
Ryan is bright, articulate and sincere. That’s so rare in politics that it’s no surprise that she’s received endorsements from a long list of local and state political dignitaries, including former legislator and longtime education advocate Gary K. Hart, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, county Supervisor Phil Serna and the man she would be replacing, county Supervisor-elect Patrick Kennedy.
Her family also reflects the diversity of the district she seeks to represent. Ryan, who is white, is married to a Latino man with whom she adopted two African American children.
Four other people will be listed on the ballot for Area 7, only two of them viable candidates. Linda Tuttle, a 29-year teacher with Sacramento schools, is a former teachers union president. Although she hasn’t held that post since 2011, she’s still clearly in the union camp and has the SCTA endorsement to prove it.
Jonathan Tran, a community activist working with the Southeast Asian community, has education policy experience but no children or family in the schools and didn’t attend Sacramento schools.
As for the incumbents, all three have served the board under extremely trying times, dealing with budget cuts, unpopular school closures, the resignation of a controversial superintendent and the hiring of a replacement.
Hansen, who works for the California Medical Association, spent more than a decade in education policy working with the state superintendent’s office. He was appointed by the board in 2012 to fill the remaining term of Ellyn Bell.
Hansen has shown independence in his short time on the board. He was the only board member not to vote for the appointment of José Banda as superintendent in July. Hansen would have preferred the interim superintendent, Sara Noguchi, be given the job.
One of the other finalists for the appointment at the time – Anna Molander – is now the union-backed challenger in this race. Both she and the other challenger, Kate Woolley, are parents of kids in the schools. But that’s not enough reason to bounce Hansen from the board. He has earned the opportunity to serve a full term.
The other two incumbents, Cuneo and Woo, were both first elected in 2010 and have performed well, proving voters right to have supported them. They also each face union-backed challengers, most likely because they don’t toe the union line on Priority Schools or teacher evaluations.
For Cuneo, that’s Ellen Cochrane, a teacher for Elk Grove schools who is a board member of East Sacramento Preservation and was a candidate for City Council earlier this year. Woo is being challenged by Maria Haro-Sullivan, an active PTA parent.
We believe the teachers union already enjoys outsized power among district leadership, as evidenced by the decision last spring to opt out of the No Child Left Behind waiver. The decision was announced to the public, tellingly, at the SCTA headquarters.
The next board will have important work figuring out what to do with schools shuttered last year, implementing Common Core and adjusting to the Local Control Funding Formula. These four are the best choices to help guide the district through.