Sacramento fights school privatization

SACRAMENTO – Sacramento High School, which has been in operation since 1856 and is the second-oldest high school west of the Mississippi, is in danger of being closed by the Sacramento City School Board, paving the way for takeover by a private corporation. Kevin Johnson, former pro basketball star and Sac High graduate, has formed the St. Hope Corporation to operate Sac High as a charter school.

St. Hope Corporation has said it cannot afford to continue employee’s union contracts and benefits. Teachers, classified employees and janitors would no longer be covered by any collective bargaining agreements.

Sac High is not the lowest-performing school in the district or the region, but while some other schools have raised their achievement test scores, Sac High has dropped in scoring the last two years. This triggers the threat of sanction and possible takeover by the State of California. About 1,300 interested community members, teachers and students filled the high school auditorium on the evening of Jan. 9 to express their opinions as the School Board met to make its decision on closing Sac High.

Anger and concern were the major emotions expressed as people came to the mike to speak. Ruth Holbrook, a labor leader representing school employees, said, “Why are you in such a hurry to dump Sac High? You, the board, are giving up your responsibility.”

Many teachers spoke. One told the board, “We teachers are held accountable, why isn’t the board held accountable?”

Concerned citizens, parents, teachers gave a long list of the boards mismanagement of Sac High. One speaker said, “We’re eternally planning and then changing plans.” Another noted that “Classes totaling 300 at-risk students are without books for ten weeks.”

“Three principals in four years,” complained one speaker. Some speakers voiced their opinion plainly telling the board, “You are proposing a simple solution to a complicated problem – will you give away our schools one by one because you can’t do your job?”

Also called for was an audit of how Sac High has come to this state of affairs and an accounting of the money received from the state as aid to under-performing schools.

By the end of the spirited meeting at 1:30 a.m., those opposed to closing Sac High claimed a temporary victory. The board had intended to vote right after the meeting. Instead, they proposed to vote on the issue on Jan. 21.

Perhaps the most important message of all from this situation is the danger of privatization of our country’s once great public education system. Obviously the struggle to save it will reach unheard of heights in the years of right-wing control ahead of us. Everywhere privatization shows itself it must be fought.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org