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A YIMBY Action Endorsement Questionnaire. View all November 2018 Questionnaires.

Lex Leifheit

Candidate - SFUSD Board of Education

SFUSD owns a good deal of land in San Francisco. A distressing amount of this land is surface parking lots. Do you think this is a good use of this land? Would building housing on these lots be a better use? How important is this issue to you?

This issue is critical to me … I think the Board of Education can do more to leverage its real estate as a resource for the City and for student outcomes. I’m the most qualified Board of Ed candidate when it comes to activating underutilized property. In my role in the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development I researched and designed a process to select tenants for several underutilized properties: 167 Jessie Street, which now hosts At the Crossroads to serve homeless youth, and 35-45 Onondaga, future home to medical and arts services in the Excelsior.

Additionally I administer the City’s Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative which has helped nonprofits secure long-term and permanently affordable space citywide.

Last — but certainly not least — I understand the role housing can play in recruiting and retaining SFUSD educators. I have attended every open neighborhood meeting to fight for teacher housing since the very first public meeting was held several years ago at the Key School Annex.

More and more students attending our public schools suffer from homelessness. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?

Some of the most effective strategies for preventing and addressing homelessness and poverty in San Francisco focus on children and families. A quality education can move people out of poverty, and schools serve as a hub for community support and basic needs. Students suffering the trauma of homelessness and housing insecurity face enormous barriers. I think the District should have a “highest and best use” policy for facilities that takes into consideration the housing crisis in our city and a process for reviewing opportunities that arise during neighborhood planning. I also think the recent SFUSD enrollment projection white paper needs a second opinion. Mission Bay is the first new school in 20 years but as housing density increases and all families deal with traffic congestion we need a board that can responsibly, proactively steward the hundreds of millions of dollars tied to capital resources and planning.

I also support the pilot program at Buena Vista Horace Mann to shelter families experiencing homelessness as I have seen other, similar space-sharing models in action, eg Mission Kids daycare which shares space with a nighttime shelter. I would support an evaluation of the pilot so that we can address challenges, build on successes and ensure that the City is paying the true cost of operating a shelter at SFUSD.

More and more teachers struggle with the cost of housing. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?

I’ve supported efforts to build teacher housing at the Key School Annex and attended every public meeting since they began several years ago. I am eager to see the demand for this housing and the impact it has on retaining workers. However, I think the most important actions SFUSD can take to address housing is to pay workers a living wage and find ways to activate underutilized property. I knocked on doors to support Prop G and raise wages this summer but this effort did not raise wages for all SFUSD workers. If we want high quality, well-resourced public education we need to make investments and policy shifts to build enrollment. “Build enrollment” is the “build more housing” of public education … it’s absolutely necessary in San Francisco and requires a seismic shift in thinking and policy. We have the lowest child population of any major city and one of the lowest enrollment rates for public schools. If we want to resource our schools — and raise wages — we need to move toward a more unified education system.

So what does this mean, actually? I would start by improving on-ramps to SFUSD. Every student should begin the SFUSD “lottery” with an initial assignment that is accessible from their home address. Every school tour should include information about the cost and schedule of aftercare, public transit options and enrichment programs. Each school website should have mobile-friendly, language-accessble information about accountability and achievement.

Getting children to and from public schools is a problem for many parents. A major finding from the SF CTA Child Transportation Study was that “most parents drive their children to school and afterschool programs.” Do you see this as a problem? What solutions do you think the school district could pursue to address this? Please feel free to discuss school busses, shuttles, protected bike lanes, etc.

Transportation and traffic congestion impacts absenteeism and drives families away from public schools. My son and I walk, bike and take MUNI to work and school, so I personally experience some of the safety and reliability issues I hear from others — for example the recent MUNI shortage due to the Twin Peaks tunnel construction. I think there are many solutions to be explored if the board has an appetite for the required analysis. The transportation study found that on the west side, many families were interested in SFUSD endorsing one carpool app so that they could more easily identify neighbors to share rides with. This solution involves a one-time startup expense but would likely be low-cost over time. Another solution is yellow school busses or possibly micro-transit connections to existing MUNI lines. I worry that MUNI is doesn’t work for working families right now because of unpredictable schedules and safety. But I think broad participation on MUNI is essential to a safer, more reliable system and for this reason I’m very interested in evaluating MUNI’s role in SFUSD transit.

I support an evaluation of whether current bike infrastructure is working and where it might be improved including protected bike lanes as well as the infrastructure and safety practices within schools. More people are biking, and more families are biking, but many schools don’t feel safe to bike to as 500+ parents are rushing to get their child in the door and get to work. We can do better.

YIMBYs care deeply about integration and healing the wounds of redlining and exclusionary zoning. These policies deliberately result in segregated schools. SFUSD has a lottery assignment system designed to fix this segregation problem in our housing, but it has not resulted in vastly more integrated schools. What do you see as solutions to this complex problem?

I believe the biggest segregation issue in our schools is the number of families who opt out of public schools altogether. In a February 2018 Chronicle article, an SFUSD Commissioner said 75 to 85 percent of white students attend private, parochial or other non-SFUSD schools. When families opt out they are literally divesting in our public education — reducing the financial, political and social power that could be shared by all. This is a problem decades in the making but as stated earlier in this questionnaire I think the Board of Ed should be held accountable for turning the tide of divestment and addressing the “enrollment gap,” starting with some small, targeted and measurable investments.

Schools alone cannot solve the problem of racial, social and economic isolation, so while some progress has been made to reduce isolation in SFUSD schools it is dependent on development of affordable housing and neighborhood strategies to protect services and resources for low- and moderate-income residents.

Some of the schools that are most isolated are in low-income Black and Latinx neighborhoods. Some of these schools have high teacher turnover and low enrollment. I am interested to see whether the Prop G wage increase will improve retention in these schools and think we should explore teacher housing near the schools with highest turnover. Principals cannot address school achievement and effectiveness if all their time is taken up hiring and on boarding new staff.

There are serious geographic equity issues with our schools. Additionally, as some districts are growing their housing supply, adding more and more children, the lack of quality schools everywhere is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. How do you plan on addressing the issue of access to quality schools in every district and opening more schools?

As stated above, I am the most qualified Board of Ed candidate when it comes to capital planning and connecting the dots to cross-sector partnerships, planning and financial resources. I think the District should have an actionable “highest and best use” policy for facilities that takes into consideration the housing crisis in our city and a process for reviewing opportunities that arise during neighborhood planning. I also think the recent SFUSD enrollment projection white paper needs a second opinion. Mission Bay is the first new school in 20 years but as housing density increases and all families deal with traffic congestion we need a board that can responsibly, proactively steward the hundreds of millions of dollars tied to capital resources and planning.

Is there anything else you think our members should know about your candidacy? Links, references, endorsements, etc?

More about my background and priorities can be found at http://www.lexleifheit.com

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