- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
August 24, 1999
- Report Blasts Former S.F. Schools Chief
Rojas blocked Prop. 227 inquiry, grand jury says
Manny Fernandez, Chronicle Staff Writer
The San Francisco civil grand jury issued a scathing report yesterday accusing former
schools chief Bill Rojas and his staff of stonewalling its investigation into the school
district's bilingual education programs.
The 1998-99 grand jury blasts school officials for being confrontational and dishonest,
failing to hand over documents pertaining to the district's bilingual programs and
refusing to cooperate with investigators.
The report also charges district administrators with creating an atmosphere of fear and
mistrust between teachers and principals on one hand and then-Superintendent Rojas
and his staff on the other.
``Our experience with the SFUSD administrators was such that it appeared that they
consciously threw roadblocks in the way of the investigators from the grand jury at
virtually every step of its investigation,'' reads the report.
The grand jury's investigation focused on the effect of Proposition 227 on the district's
bilingual instruction and finances. The controversial proposition, which passed with 61
percent of the vote in June, was designed to end bilingual education in California.
The law requires school districts statewide to teach children in English or provide
alternative programs, at parents' request, in which students are gradually moved to
Implementation of the proposition has been complicated in San Francisco because of a
1976 federal consent decree, which the district says mandates it to offer a wide range of
bilingual programs, including instruction in a student's native language. District
officials maintain that they have been making an effort to comply with both by expanding
Under Proposition 227, schools are required to replace bilingual education with a one
year program of intensive English-language instruction. But the grand jury report
states that San Francisco teachers told investigators that students are kept in bilingual
classes for a longer time period ``to ensure that the bilingual dollars flowed'' into the
Approximately 20,000 of the district's 65,000 students are classified as Limited
English Proficient and currently receive part or all of their school instruction in a
language other than English, according to the grand jury. The report states that the
district receives more than $30 million a year in state and federal funds for bilingual
School administrators told the grand jury the district is not obligated to spend all that
money on bilingual programs. When investigators for the grand jury asked an accountant
for the school district how much money was spent by the district on bilingual education,
the accountant could not answer.
``It is difficult to understand, given two months' notice, why the auditor could not locate
this number,'' the report states. ``Because of our other experiences with district
personnel, it would lead one to believe that the district did not want us to know how little
of the funds were used for the purposes intended.''
Attempts to reach Rojas, who left San Francisco in June to become superintendent in
Dallas, were unsuccessful.
District officials said they have yet to fully analyze the findings of the grand jury report
and would not comment on specific allegations until they had.
``We really haven't had an opportunity to review it,'' said Elaine Koury, a spokeswoman
for the school district, adding that the release comes at a hectic time for administrators,
one day before the city's 115 schools open for the 1999-2000 school year.
Koury did say, however, that the district cooperated fully with the grand jury during its
inquiry. ``The San Francisco Unified School District complied with the grand jury's
request for information, and we have the paper trail to prove it,'' Koury said. ``We
provided them with everything that they asked for.''
What the grand jury asked for, she said, included questions about school district policies
and the content of bilingual programs that went beyond their jurisdiction. ``There were
questions that various people felt they didn't have the right to ask,'' Koury said.
School board member Dan Kelly described the report as not an inquiry but a complaint
from jury members about their inability to find out any information. ``This is not the
first irrational report that we've gotten'' from a grand jury, Kelly said. ``Grand juries
aren't always very well informed or efficient.''
The grand jury report recommended that the next civil jury continue to study the school
district's bilingual education programs, stating that further examination was needed.
The 18-member panel was particularly disturbed by the ``paranoia'' that it said existed
among Rojas, the staff and teachers. ``It was very clear that there existed a party line,''
the report states, ``and that the superintendent and his staff wanted the answers to our
questions orchestrated according to what they wanted and not necessarily what was
happening with the schools.''
The report attacks Rojas for failing to respond to the grand jury's questions, and finally
appearing before members only after a subpoena was about to be issued.
During sworn testimony before the grand jury, Rojas also promised to provide several
documents to the jury members, including legal opinions involving Proposition 227's
effect on the federal decree, a list of schools with bilingual programs and the number of
students involved in those programs.
The grand jury report stated that the jury never received the information.
- ©1999 San Francisco Chronicle