The San Francisco Examiner reported last week that enrollment in the local public schools is down by another 1,000 students this year, which means, some school board members say, that more sites will have to be closed.
I understand the economic issues — the state pays for education based on average daily attendance, and if fewer kids show up, the school district gets fewer dollars. And I’ll admit I have a dog in this fight: my son goes to McKinley Elementary, a wonderful school that represents everything that’s right about public education in San Francisco — and McKinley was on the hit list last year. It’s a small school; that makes it vulnerable.
I also understand that there are some things the school board can’t control. Families are leaving San Francisco in droves. That’s largely because of the high cost of housing, which is an issue for the mayor and the supervisors (and one that’s going to take a lot more work and resolve to address). So we’re going to lose some students that way.
But we’re also losing a lot of kids to private schools; I know that because I have good friends who’ve chosen that route, mostly because they don’t think the public schools can offer what they want for their kids. This is a perception problem, and it’s something the school board doesn’t have to sit back and accept.
That, I guess, is what really frustrates me — so many people simply saying that as a matter of strategic planning, we need to assume 1,000 fewer students a year will go to the public schools. The district spent around a quarter of a million dollars last year on a public relations office, and almost all the office seemed to do was hide information from the press and promote the career of then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Now Ackerman’s gone, and so is her officious flak, Lorna Ho. It’s time to take district PR seriously.
How hard would it be to have one PR staffer dedicated to creating a major citywide ad campaign promoting the public schools? I suspect it would be relatively easy to find a top-flight local ad firm that would work pro bono and not at all impossible to raise money for media (billboards, bus sides, direct mail, print ads, TV, whatever). Lots of prominent people would do testimonials. Set a goal: no enrollment drop-off next year. Before we close any more schools, it’s worth a try.
Now this: Clear Channel, which owns 10 radio stations in San Francisco and does almost no local public affairs programming at all, recently dropped its only decent San Francisco show, Keepin’ It Real with Will and Willie on KQKE, and replaced it with a syndicated feed out of Los Angeles. To listen to most of Clear Channel radio, you’d never actually know that you’re in San Francisco; the giant Texas chain doesn’t care anything about this community.
If you’re sick of this kind of behavior by an increasingly consolidated monopoly broadcast industry (using, by the way, the public airwaves), you’re not alone: Media Alliance, the Youth Media Council, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will host a hearing on media consolidation in Oakland on Oct. 27, and two Federal Communications Commission members, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, will be there to take public comments.
The hearing’s at the Oakland Marriott Civic Center, 1001 Broadway. For more information, go to www.media-alliance.org. SFBG