Should Newsom have power over charter schools? 

Despite a poll on his re-election campaign Web site that asks San Franciscans if he should have the power to open charter schools, Mayor Gavin Newsom said Thursday that he’s not interested in doing so.

Under a "What do you think?" heading, there are four questions involving widely discussed issues in San Francisco: Bus Rapid Transit, free wireless Internet, rebuilding public housing and putting more taxis on the roads.

The fifth question hasn’t made headlines in San Francisco like the others: "Should the mayor have the authority to open charter schools?" As of Thursday afternoon, the vote was 63 in favor versus 33 against the idea.

"I’m not inclined to support that," Newsom said on Thursday. "But I think the purpose of the Web site is to allow different views to be processed and have a public debate."

Newsom said he’s happy with the relationship he’s worked to develop with the school district, which includes a formal partnership agreement between The City and the public school system, approved by the Board of Education last month.

Board of Education President Mark Sanchez — and other school board members, including Vice President Norman Yee and veteran member Jill Wynns — said they believed Newsom’s intention was not to overstep his authority.

"I don’t feel it’s an issue," Sanchez said. "He’s really reaching out to the school district."

Giving a mayor control over the public schools is not a new idea. In 2001, the Indiana Legislature granted the mayor of Indianapolis the authority to issue charters to nonprofit entities. Two weeks ago, the mayor of St. Louis asked the Missouri Legislature for similar powers. In Los Angeles, a state bill signed into law last September gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa some decision-making authority over the public schools — although that law is being challenged in court. In 2000, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took control of his city’s school district.

If he hasn’t considered getting more authority over the school district, Mayor Gavin Newsom should, said Wade Randlett, president of SFSOS, a moderate political advocacy group.

"Some charter schools have done extraordinarily well," Randlett said, while praising KIPP Academy, a San Francisco charter school that has shown consistent success in state testing with its predominately black population. "There are currently niche markets that are being underserved by the school district," he said.

Newsom: Progress slow on biotech campus

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plans for a new science and technology high school at Mission Bay, which could be opened as a charter school, are slowly moving forward, he said.

Newsom first proposed the idea of creating the high-tech high school during his October 2005 State of the City address. Since that time, the Mayor’s Office has been meeting with representatives from the San Francisco Unified School District, City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State and UC San Francisco — which has a campus at Mission Bay — in hopes of bringing all of the educational partners on board with the idea.

"It’s called bureaucracy," Newsom said. "If you had a business, you could just do it. Now, there’s processes for getting everybody on board."

Newsom said the governing structure for the new high school had not yet been determined, but that he wanted the campus to be a public high school.

It could open as a charter school, he said. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate with less oversight and restrictions than conventional public schools. For example, charter schools do not have to hire union teachers and can create their own curricula. The schools are held accountable for student achievement on state standardized tests.

Discussion about a possible high school has not yet come before the Board of Education.

Assistant Superintendent Margaret Chiu, who has attended one of the meetings at the Mayor’s office about the proposed high school, said at first glance, the project is a "great idea" since it would present more educational options for the district’s high school students.

District spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said that although there have been conversations about starting a science and technology high school at Mission Bay, that there’s not "one clear plan yet."

"There’s still a lot of data that needs to be gathered and ideas of what it would look like," Blythe said.

The mayor’s education adviser, Hydra Mendoza, said a consultant is going to be hired to help bring all the ideas for the high school together into a solid plan.

"In the next few months we’ll have a facilitator in place and have everyone back at the table," Mendoza said.

The proposed site for the new school is a 1½-acre lot on Owens Street, on property owned by UCSF, Mendoza said. Under an agreement with UCSF, the school district would be deeded the property, "at no expense" once other parcels in the area have been sold, Mendoza said.

Each day until voters go to the polls Nov.6, The Examiner lays odds on local figures beating Mayor Gavin Newsom. Check out our exclusive blog: San Francisco's Next Mayor?

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