Funk: San Jose’s contract with a private Catholic school reeks

On Aug. 6, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved a contract with Cristo Rey San José Jesuit High School in the amount of $838,264 to provide work experience/paid internships for up to 24 students. The contract is paid directly to Cristo Rey to help cover the tuition cost for the students’ Jesuit education.

Cristo Rey’s website states that no family pays more than $2,500 per year for tuition. Tuition for one year is $15,750. The agreement with the city of San Jose will subsidize over 50% of tuition costs for 24 students by paying the school $8,750 per student the first year and $9,212 per student the second year.

In reviewing the staff memo for agenda item 2.9, there are several concerns I have with how the memo was written and received by the San Jose City Council.

The memo states that when the Request for Proposal (RFP) was posted last April, outreach was conducted to 69 schools/districts. Which schools and districts were contacted? Two districts, East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) and San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD), which make up 29,000 students in the city of San Jose, received no information in the office of the superintendent.

There are 38 high schools, including private, parochial, charter and public non-charter schools in San Jose.  Which schools were contacted and by what means?

For the past decade, the mayor and city staff would meet quarterly with 19 San Jose school district superintendents. Unfortunately, these meetings were canceled this past year by the mayor’s office. What a perfect opportunity it would have been to engage directly with the superintendents about this RFP for work experience. Now that would be transparent.

The memo refers to “Cristo Rey School.” However, the school website refers to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. It is interesting that nowhere in the staff memo is Cristo Rey referred to as a Jesuit high school.

I will admit that I am not aware of the city’s process to post an RFP for grant purposes. As a superintendent, I, nor do my staff, keep current with the San Jose City Council agendas or how they operate as a city organization. I assume no one on the city staff keeps up with 19 school district board agendas or our RFP processes. Why would they? So, when the memo states that during the ten-day protest window, no schools protested the agreement with Cristo Rey, it is simply preposterous to think there would be public protest. Where is the transparency?

I served on the Board of Genesys Works when this organization attempted for three years to provide services in the South Bay from San Francisco and Oakland. Genesys Works provides an 8-week summer training program for rising high school seniors (30 from ESUHSD and SJUSD) and places them in paid internships four hours per day, five days a week, during their senior year. We were never able to get the city to join other local companies to take even one intern. Mind you, the interns at Genesys Works were paid directly. Funds did not go to pay for their free, public education but were designed to help contribute toward future college expenses. Genesys Works unfortunately has scaled back its operations and is focusing its efforts in San Francisco and Oakland. I have since stepped down from its board.

For the past three summers, the Silicon Valley Organization along with Strive San Jose and Work2Future provided over 320 high school students with six-week summer paid internships with local industry including the city of San Jose. Imagine if 24 students were selected from the summer program to be able to extend their learning and work experience by being selected for a paid internship with the city of San Jose as rising seniors. Instead of subsidizing a parochial education, the city would be contributing toward future college expenses.

I am not questioning the constitutionality of providing public funds to private or parochial schools. The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the government may not exclude religious groups from grant programs simply because they are religious. However, as a San Jose native, paying taxes in San Jose my entire adult life, I have never given tacit or implicit approval to using public funds to subsidize school tuition at a Jesuit school.

The way the memo was presented to the San Jose City Council gives the impression that someone on the City Council was pushing this contract through and that the Office of the City Manager was complicit in presenting this agenda item in a non-controversial, sectarian way.

I believe that leaders at City Hall want to be good partners with school districts in San Jose and help close the opportunity and achievement gaps that exist within our city. The frustration among some superintendents in San Jose is increasing. There have been a few starts and stops under this leadership. This contract is another example of the perceived favorable relationship that private and charter schools seem to have with the current leadership at City Hall.

This contract agreement with Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School and the process that was followed to issue the grant and inform the City Council reeks to high heaven. This issue should be thoroughly reviewed by all members of the council.

San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. His columns appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at funkc@esuhsd.org or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.

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