February 20, 2015

Who is Sandra Siraganian? Part 2

Robert Niles
Earlier this month, I asked Who is Sandra Siraganian? Now, we're getting some additional answers, as Siraganian has sent out her first two campaign mailers. While the flyers are providing some additional information about this PUSD school board candidate and her beliefs, they should raise even more doubt about her fitness to serve.

Siraganian's first flyer dredges up the ancient history of court-ordered busing in the PUSD, claiming that "The PUSD never allowed me to attend my neighborhood school." But no family is the Pasadena Unified School District these days is denied the opportunity to attend its assigned neighborhood school. Take a look at the PUSD attendance boundaries for the upcoming school year:

PUSD elementary school attendance zones

PUSD high school attendance zones

Sorry, but I don't see any cross-district-busing, gerrymandered attendance zones there. Yes, the PUSD allows families to choose to attend other schools in the district, per state law. But if you want to stay with your "home" school, you can! PUSD does not have a capacity problem. (As I've written before, if anything, PUSD still has too much capacity given the declining number of school-aged children in the district.) There's no issue, at all, with kids being kept out of their neighborhood schools due to a lack of seats.

Siraganian attacks her opponent, Larry Torres, for his support of the district's current policy of creating "destination" schools. A district such as PUSD, with limited resources and an abundant number of schools, simply can't afford to offer a full range of programs at every campus. All PUSD schools offer the required courses under the California state curriculum, but when it comes to extra programs — everything from foreign-language immersion programs for elementary students to computer-application-development academies for high school kids — PUSD supports those programs by offering them on a limited number of campuses, then inviting families to opt into attending those schools if those aren't the campuses to which their children are assigned.

That's what a "destination" school is. It's a smart way for a school district to stretch taxpayers' dollars, by offering a wider range of programs to more students than it could otherwise. The alternative is to raise taxes wildly to duplicate these programs at all schools, or to drop them and deny PUSD students the opportunities that kids in other, wealthier districts enjoy. Does Siraganian really prefer one of those options?

And if she doesn't, why then is Siraganian bringing this up?

In politics, there's a concept known as a "dog whistle." It's a statement that most voters won't hear, but that resonates with a candidate's base supporters. Could Siraganian's flyer be a dog whistle to her Tea Party base? (I detailed her support for the Tea Party and right-wing Republican causes in my previous post.)

Look at Siraganian's flyer from another perspective, to hear the dog whistle. This isn't about PUSD keeping kids from attending their neighborhood schools. That doesn't happen these days. So either Siraganian doesn't know what she's talking about, or else she is saying something that the average voter might not hear.

Perhaps when Siraganian talks about "supporting neighborhood schools," she's not talking about making sure there is space available in them for the neighborhood kids, since that's not a real issue. Perhaps, then, she is talking about making sure that there is no space in them for anyone else — such as children from outside the neighborhood, from elsewhere in the district.

Remember, Siraganian supported and gave money to a candidate for governor who called for "war" on immigrants. (See my previous post.) She's used slurs to reference immigrants in our schools. And now she's talking about court-ordered busing, something that's no longer an issue in the district. People with a long memory for politics remember how "support neighborhood schools" has been used as a segregationists' rallying cry. Given the complete lack of PUSD families in recent years who've been denied the opportunity to attend their neighborhood schools, plus Siraganian's political background, it's hard to see her mailer as anything other than a coded racial appeal.

As appalling as her first flyer was, it's in the second mailer that her campaign turns into pure farce.

Siraganian's second mailer addresses curriculum standards. In it, she attacks Torres for the performance of the City of Angels school, a K-12 independent school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where Torres works. The mailer cites low test score data for the school, claiming that it is "one of the worst performing schools in the state."

What the mailer doesn't mention is that City of Angels is LA Unified's school for students at highest risk of dropping out, including victims of abuse, orphans, and teen parents. Siraganian's mailer slams Torres for the fact that 62 percent of the students at the school scored below proficient in English-Language Arts.

Sorry, but the fact that 38 percent of students facing these kinds of obstacles are now scoring proficient or above ought to be hailed as a miracle.

We need people like Larry Torres, who will try to help those children among us whom the rest of society has abandoned. Not stealth candidates like Sandra Siraganian, who has no classroom or school management experience, who mocks and attacks members of the community, and who refuses to show up at candidate forums to answer questions and to be accountable to voters.

So long as Siraganian keeps mailing out this stuff, I'll keep knocking it down. Please share this post with your friends in the district, and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for future posts on the PUSD election. (Or email me, and I'll be happy to send you a note when I post my next piece.)

With their ham-handed racial appeals and pathetically misleading claims, Siraganian's mailers read like a parody of a Tea Party campaign. PUSD students, parents, and taxpayers deserve better than this. Let's make sure that we keep her off the school board when we go to the polls on March 10.

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