David Chiu pushing to get IT together in San Francisco 

As President of the Board of Supervisors, David Chiu has been yelled at, threatened, and even serenaded — but he generally keeps his cool.

When he became saucy at a recent Budget and Finance Committee, one had to take notice.

At issue was about $6.4 million dollars that 14 city departments are trying to get their hands on. The money was put in “reserve” last year in an effort to force the departments to find savings by streamlining information technology functions. A reserve is an amount of money that is set aside but only the board can release at a later date.  

During last year’s budget negotiations, Chiu lamented the fact that The City spends some $200 million per year on technology and has seven email platforms, duplicative contracts with the same technology vendors, and some 36 servers.

Demanding that the departments get it together, Chiu led the charge at the board last July to withhold $6.4 million “pending information on the process of IT consolidation.”

According to Chiu, “The idea was that we would have by September of 2010 a roadmap of how we were going to save this [amount of reserve] money.”

Fast forward to April of this year. The roadmap never materialized and the departments want the cash. The almighty progress they have achieved in one year is this: a decision to put all server hardware at two locations. The construction of one of those locations will be $6 million dollars.

Faced with a group that had utterly failed to consolidate functions, job positions or software across departments and instead returned with a plan that only addresses one issue and costs more money, Chiu had this to say, “We have dozens and dozens of IT fiefdoms around The City that are not working together, that are engaged in their own expenditures, that are spending $200 million dollars a year on IT. We know that if efforts were more consolidated, we would see significant savings and yet every department is unwilling, I think, to work collectively.”  

The committee ultimately voted to release half of the money on reserves and will consider releasing the other half in about a  month.

“At a time when all of us are looking at rec centers in our districts that are being cut, street cleaning that is being cut, public health centers that are being cut, we have to do better,” Chiu said.

Ammiano working for limits on charter schools

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, serves on the Assembly Committee on Education, which makes sense because he is a former public school teacher and served as president of the San Francisco Board of Education. He remains focused on education, and he has sponsored a number of bills aimed at the subject.

One important proposal by Ammiano that has thus far escaped the public’s attention is AB 401, a law that would impose strict caps on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state. It was endorsed by the committee and will be voted on by the full Assembly in the coming months.

Charter schools are publicly funded but are given flexibility in how they teach state educational standards. Notably, charter schools aren’t bound by the rules of teachers unions, so you can guess which group is strongly in favor of limiting their availability.

Currently, there are 815 charter schools in California, and state law allows that number to grow by a total of 100 each year. Ammiano’s bill would cap the total number at 1,450 until at least 2023. It also limits the total number of charter schools in any district to 10 percent of the total number of schools.

San Francisco has 110 public schools and 10 charter schools, so we are close to the limit. Other places, such as San Diego, already exceed that 10 percent ratio. While they wouldn’t have to close charter schools, they wouldn’t get to open new ones, either.

Gov. Brown likes to brag about the two charter schools he helped build while he was mayor of Oakland, but he also needs to suck up to the California teachers union — so don’t expect a veto from his office.

Lee not acting like a temp mayor

When I first met interim Mayor Ed Lee  in early February,  we discussed his soaring popularity — at least among people who had heard of him. He chuckled and said, “I’m sure the honeymoon is almost over.”

He was wrong. And it’s one of the few mistakes he’s made so far as interim mayor. He has repeatedly denied that he will run for a full term as mayor in November, which I could more easily accept if he was not doing such a solid job.

Consider the following examples:

• Insiders say Lee’s direct engagement in the pension reform negotiations is preventing the effort from being derailed (as it has in the past) by self-serving proposals and petty infighting.

• Lee engineered Jon Rubin’s resignation as San Francisco’s mayoral delegate on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and appointed Supervisor Scott Wiener in his place.

In doing so, Lee got rid of a wonky but weak Rubin and ended a standoff at the Board of Supervisors over whether Supervisor David Campos or Wiener would be the board’s delegate.

Wiener and Campos are now San Francisco’s two delegates to the powerful regional transportation body, ensuring that our fair city has robust representation.

• Lee drove the deal to keep Twitter in town and has convened a technology working group to examine job creation and The City’s tax structure.

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Melissa Griffin

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