Public Press wins an Excellence in Journalism award for ‘Public Schools, Private Money,’ in the winter 2014 edition

 

Two PTA Presidents, Two Realities

Jeremy Adam Smith, Luke Thomas and Tearsa Joy Hammock, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 13 2014 - 3:57pm

Photo essay: Ana Hernandez, Junipero Serra Elementary; and Barry Schmell, Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy

Today, after five years of severe budget cuts in the San Francisco Unified School District, PTAs are being asked to pay for teachers, reading specialists, social workers and school psychologists, computers, basic school supplies, staff training and more. But not all PTAs can afford those things. Parents at just 10 elementary schools raise more than half the PTA money that all 71 elementary schools in the district take in. Many of the rest raise nothing, or almost nothing.

Ana Hernandez and Barry Schmell come from very different backgrounds, but they have at least one thing in common: They both lead their schools’ parent-teacher associations

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

Activists Call for Revival of Harvey Milk’s Anti-Speculation Proposal

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 10 2014 - 4:39pm

Before his death, Supervisor Harvey Milk introduced an “anti-speculation” proposal that would have heavily taxed profits generated by quickly flipping properties in San Francisco. Now Brian Basinger, a housing activist and former president of the nostalgically named Harvey Milk Democratic Club, is pushing for the city to resurrect it. The proposal was one of seven considered at Saturday’s citywide Tenant Convention at the Tenderloin Community School auditorium. Participants were able to rank their preference for various proposals by ballot. The event was the culmination of a series of neighborhood tenant conventions that aimed to generate ideas to solve the city’s affordable housing crisis.

New Law Gives People With Criminal History a Chance for a Job and Housing

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 6 2014 - 6:28pm

A new local law will help people with a past criminal conviction secure housing and find employment in San Francisco. Known as “ban the box,” a newly approved plan by Supervisor Jane Kim will mean job applicants no longer have to disclose their criminal history until after they have participated in a live interview. It will also mean public and private agencies will be limited in how that information can be used to place people in below-market-rate housing.

Infographics: School Fundraising in S.F. by the Numbers

Jeffrey Thorsby, Jason Winshell, Tom Guffey and Justin Slaughter, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 6 2014 - 4:10pm

The San Francisco Unified School District aims to spend its funds equitably, not necessarily equally. That means giving more to schools with the highest needs, based on a complex formula. But in the past decade, parents at some schools have developed sophisticated fundraising operations to make up for years of tight districtwide budgets. The result: parents at a few schools are able to significantly supplement their children’s education, while most are not.

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

How Budget Cuts and PTA Fundraising Undermined Equity in San Francisco Public Schools

Jeremy Adam Smith, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 3 2014 - 4:09pm

PUBLIC SCHOOLS, PRIVATE MONEY: Parent fundraising for elementary education in S.F. skyrocketed 800 percent in 10 years. The largesse saved some classroom programs, but widened the gap between rich and poor.

In an era of shrinking public investment in schools, parents have struggled to hold the line one school at a time. Since the pre-recession year 2007, elementary school PTAs in San Francisco collectively managed to more than quadruple their spending on schools. 

With this money, some schools have been able to pay teachers and staff, buy computers and school supplies, and underwrite class outings and enrichment activities. These expenses, previously covered by the taxpayers, are increasingly the responsibility of parents.

But school district finance data, PTA tax records and demographic profiles reveal an unintended byproduct of parents’ heroic efforts: The growing reliance on private dollars has widened inequities between the impoverished majority and the small number of schools where affluent parents cluster.

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

Debate in 2014: Use State Windfall for S.F. Schools to Aid Poorest Students, or Raise Teacher Pay?

Justin Slaughter, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 3 2014 - 4:08pm

New state dollars will begin flowing into the San Francisco Unified School District in the fall — and policymakers and activists have already begun arguing over how to spend them. Should the San Francisco Board of Education use the $22 million from a new funding scheme to increase teacher salaries districtwide? Should it hire more classroom aides? Or should it adjust its decade-old equitable funding policy that gives a leg up to schools with many children from poor families?

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

Some S.F. Leaders Want Failing Streetlights Added to Seismic Safety Bond

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Jan 29 2014 - 1:26pm

A $400 million bond to improve emergency-response services and other public safety infrastructure in San Francisco will be on the June ballot, but Supervisor Scott Wiener said the bond should be expanded to fix hundreds of streetlights that have fallen into disrepair. The bond would include $70 million to repair and retrofit fire stations, $30 million for improvements to police stations and $65 million toward the construction of a new seismically sound medical examiner facility. It would also include $70 million in upgrades to the city’s alternative water supply system used to fight fires and $165 million for a new police building for traffic and forensic services. The proposal is the second in a series of Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response bonds that the city has proposed in order to cover the costs associated with retrofiting buildings and other infrastructure in preparation for a large earthquake.

Audio Interview: Board Game Teaches California’s Cap-and-Trade Climate Program

Chorel Centers and Adriel Taquechel, San Francisco Public Press — Jan 27 2014 - 11:56am

Public Press reporter Chorel Centers sat down with editor Michael Stoll and illustrator Anna Vignet to discuss the creation of a board game that allows teaches players how California’s year-old cap-and-trade greenhouse gas pollution control program works. It's part of a trend of “gamification” of the news, using interactive formats to engage audiences and teach complex policy issues. Players work as greenhouse gas tycoons in a race to make money before the caps on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases take full effect. The game is laid out like a Monopoly board.

The project was published in the summer 2013 print edition, and the prototype board game was printed on the back page of the first section of the newspaper. It accompnanied an extensive investigation on California’s cap and trade program, which aims to cut back to 1990 levels of greenhouse gases by 2020.

New Responses to City Housing Crisis Include Eviction Protections, Construction Incentives

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Jan 15 2014 - 4:22pm

Supervisor Eric Mar on Tuesday floated a plan to protect tenants from eviction by property owners selling units within multifamily buildings under tenancy in common agreements. It is the latest in a series of attempts to reduce displacement and increase affordable housing opportunities. David Campos called on Mayor Ed Lee to join him in regulating the tenant “buyouts” that often allow landlords to evict without invoking the Ellis Act, and Scott Wiener introduced new legislation to encourage developers to build more affordable units.

Supervisors Respond to Increased Pedestrian Deaths With Questions About Ride Sharing

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Jan 8 2014 - 6:32pm

With pedestrian deaths reaching a high point in San Francisco last year, elected leaders vowed Tuesday to address a problem that killed 20 people in 2013. The issue was given a new sense of urgency with the tragic death of another pedestrian just outside City Hall shortly after the supervisors’ weekly meeting concluded.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: What Ed Lee Has Promised

Adriel Taquechel, San Francisco Public Press — Jan 3 2014 - 12:06pm

In the two and a half years since he became mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee has predicted that his economic development efforts across the board would yield hundreds of thousands of new jobs for San Francisco. But it could be years or decades before we know whether many of these predictions pan out. Plus: Listen to reporter Adriel Taquechel’s audio update on the story.

Counting Costs for S.F. Workforce Development Programs

Adriel Taquechel and Noah Arroyo, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 20 2013 - 12:26pm

City programs offering workforce development services range from simple access to a job-listings database to a full-time, 18-week certification course that funnels graduates into union apprenticeships. They vary widely in cost, with some intensive programs costing tens of thousands of dollars for each participant placed in a job. Related: “HELP WANTED: City Hall Focuses on Hot Job Sectors, but Struggles to Track Workforce Training Budget,” the cover story in the fall print edition.

S.F. Board Watch: Supervisors Take Aim at Bottled Water

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 19 2013 - 9:24pm

Bottled water is the latest bottled beverage in the line of fire after Supervisor David Chiu proposed controlling its sale in San Francisco.The proposal comes soon after another proposal to tax soda, which will likely appear on the ballot next November. In other news: The city moves forward on protections against harassment by landlords, and the Board of Supervisors approve a land swap with the school district to create more below-market-rate housing.

City Construction Course Offers Job Placements, but Excludes Many Who Could Use a Hand Up

Chorel Centers, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 17 2013 - 4:05pm

Rigorous screening limits candidates, who are groomed for union apprenticeships

San Francisco offers a free 18-week training course through City College that takes low-skill, out-of-work city residents and sets them on the path to construction trade careers. But while the instructors try hard to be inclusive, some city residents who need the program do not satisfy the minimum qualifications, including a high school equivalency degree. For those who matriculate, unions are able to find job placements for 85 percent of graduates, with the help massive construction boom that has raised demand for trade laborers to levels not seen in a decade.

SAN FRANCISCO’S WORKFORCE REBOOT is the cover story in the fall 2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press. Check back for updates on other stories.

Summer Youth Employment Stretches San Francisco Job Statistics

Kevin Forestieri and Noah Arroyo, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 13 2013 - 11:51am

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has repeatedly proclaimed that a city-sponsored youth employment program “created” more than 5,000 jobs last year. This year the same program, Summer Jobs+, placed more than 6,800 young people in new positions. As the city prepares to issue its scorecard for 2013, we can expect more claims of jobs created, including “permanent” ones.

SAN FRANCISCO’S WORKFORCE REBOOT is the cover story in the fall 2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press. Check back for updates on other stories.

Big Businesses Use State Tax Fund to Train Their Own Staff

Alex Kekauoha, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 12 2013 - 12:11pm

Some subsidies, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, are awarded to multinational corporations valued in the billions

State subsidies for vocational training might provide a windfall to large corporations already able to offer similar instruction, if a planned expansion of a program funded through a tax on all businesses in California moves forward. State officials say they aim the vocational training funding at big businesses in key industries that are in danger of relocating to other states. But while tens of thousands of smaller companies pay into the program via the Employment Training Tax, it is hard for most to qualify for grants. Many do not even know the program exists.

SAN FRANCISCO’S WORKFORCE REBOOT is the cover story in the fall 2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press. Check back for updates on other stories.

S.F. Board Watch: Supervisors Approve Plan to Protect Tenants Against Displacement

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 11 2013 - 12:13pm

The first substantive plan to protect tenants against displacement passed in San Francisco Tuesday. Supervisor John Avalos secured unanimously approval for the new rules, but some of his colleagues expressed misgivings about rushing into changes that could lead to unintended consequences for landlords.

Online Payment Firm Acteva Acknowledges Multimillion-Dollar Debt to Charities, Blames Cash-Flow Problem

Alex Kekauoha, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 9 2013 - 2:25pm

The top executive of Acteva, a San Francisco-based payment processing company, says he has a plan to dig out of $4 million to $5 million in debt and repay online donations owed to nonprofit organizations across the country. Still, some creditors — including a community college, an environmental group, an agricultural cooperative and a regional journalism organization — say they are owed tens of thousands of dollars each, and question whether the business will ever refund the money. Some are now taking legal action.

Employers Scramble to Claim New Tax Breaks After State Kills ‘Wasteful’ Enterprise Zones

Miguel Sola Torá, San Francisco Public Press — Dec 2 2013 - 5:08pm

Among the companies benefiting were two Sacramento strip clubs and some of the nation’s largest corporations, including Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, FedEx, Starbucks and Wells Fargo

Large businesses in California “enterprise zones” reaped billions of dollars in tax breaks in recent years, but tax privacy laws made it impossible to tell whether the program actually encouraged companies to hire new workers in economically disadvantaged parts of the state. So the Legislature overhauled the $750 million program — but instead of killing it outrightstate put aside an equivalent amount for an even more elaborate array of tax credits. San Francisco officials said that a local, parallel tax break program will continue.

SAN FRANCISCO’S WORKFORCE REBOOT is the cover story in the fall 2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press. Check back for updates on other stories.

Board of Supervisors Cripples Transit Agency Plan for More Parking Meters

Josh Wolf, San Francisco Public Press — Nov 27 2013 - 12:57pm

Drivers will soon be able to use their credit cards to pay for parking at all 25,000 meters throughout San Francisco, but efforts to greatly expand metered parking are on hold. On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors approved a $51.2 million contract to replace the city’s aging coin-operated meters with machines that accept credit cards. But the supervisors rejected transit agency’s request for 10,000 new meters that it could install wherever it chose.

In other news: Mayor Ed Lee responds to concerns about Ellis Act evictions and affordable housing, and Supervisor David Chiu wants to legalize existing in-law units.