His critics claim that, for all his mastery of educational jargon, Perkins is an empty suit who got a quick course in how to win a school-board race by saying the right buzzwords to the right constituencies, but once elected would be at the mercy of his handlers in labor and the downtown establishment. "Mr. Perkins lacks depth in his responses to questions regarding the Blueprint," argues Frank Lucero, a math teacher who is backing Jeff Lee. "His responses indicate that he is an educational neophyte. He uses the same response to many questions: 'The teachers are the experts,' 'parents are the foundation,' 'fundamentals come first,' 'reading, writing, math,' 'sit down with the stakeholders at local schools to empower them,' 'The Blueprint is a top-down management approach.' In other words, there is no depth to his responses. I feel like yelling out, 'Tell us something we don't already know!' "
Perkins counters that his position as a newcomer to education politics is actually a plus and says he would base his service on the school board around his experience in the public schools of Cypress. "I'm a public-school-system product myself. Graduated from UCLA and went through the public schools myself, and I want to make sure that my child and the children in the community have the same kind of opportunities I had when I was in public school. I was held back when I was in first grade, and if not for the tremendous teachers I had then, I don't think I would have been able to get to the next level, because my folks moved from one city to another late in the school year.
"And I went to Cypress Junior College before I went to UCLA, and I didn't know how to study out of high school, and I had tremendous professors at junior college that really focused me on studying, which enabled me to be successful when I got to UCLA. So I value and respect our teachers for the tremendous and awesome responsibility they have in educating our children, and I just want to make sure that the kind of privilege I had going through public school...that the children in San Diego have that same opportunity."
Lucero and others who favor ousting Bersin are also suspicious of the carefully studied position Perkins has laid out regarding the future of the superintendent. In his videotaped interview with the teachers' union, he studiously avoided calling outright for Bersin to go, instead suggesting he would convene a meeting of teachers, ask for their opinions, and then present Bersin with a list of unspecified policy changes. "If they aren't addressed in a certain amount of time, then I'm willing to reevaluate the administration." Counters Lucero: "His worst answers regard questions about his support for Alan Bersin. Perkins says that he could work with Bersin and that Bersin could be changed. He panders to his target audience and blows with the political wind.
"I told the SDEA, you did not do your homework," Lucero concludes. "If they had gone into any in-depth process, he would never have been endorsed." Not so, argues teachers' union president Marc Knapp, who voices confidence in Perkins and his ability to deliver for his members. "Perkins says, 'I'm going to give you [Bersin] a chance to change, but if you don't, you're gone.' That is, if they have the votes to do it. Frankly, that's the approach I would take, even having been across the table from the superintendent all the time. If I was running a campaign, I would never run on saying I'm going to throw the superintendent out. What I would say was that I was expecting change; if it doesn't happen, this leadership is going to change."
Perkins adds that any policy changes to be made by the school board, including the potential firing of Bersin, will require time for him to evaluate once he gets elected. "I'd like to have a time period -- and I don't know what it is, because I need to think through more about those issues and how complicated they would be to change quickly -- but let's say we give him six months to a year; let's say just hypothetically. If those issues aren't changed within that time period that I think is reasonable, then, yes, I would very seriously consider making a change in the superintendent's office."
Both Perkins and Knapp deny the persistent story that the teachers' union president made any secret deals to engineer the endorsement of Perkins. "At least one of the other candidates is putting out all of this spurious crap about SDEA sold out or I sold out or Alan Bersin is paying me off," Knapp says. "My favorite is the part where my contract with SDEA was supposed to run out on the 31st of December, and then on January 1st Alan Bersin was going to give me a high-powered job, maybe even Tony Alvarado's. I got to tell you, out of all the people in the world Alan Bersin would do anything for, I'm last."
The argument within the union over its endorsement of Perkins has become so heated that last week Knapp posted an article on the union's website, headlined "Setting the Record Straight: Rumors Fly in the Face of Facts," vehemently denying he had cut a deal with Bersin. "The President was only one of the approximately 150 votes cast, and had no veto power. We are recommending to our members one of the best pair of pro children/educator candidates SDEA has ever supported," Knapp wrote. "Misguided souls -- It never ceases to amaze me how uninformed and stupid some people can be, so I probably need to clear up a few inaccuracies put out by these misguided souls.
"I am a dues-paying member elected by you to serve and represent the policies and positions of the Association in all dealings with the District and other agencies through July 31, 2002. This spring you will elect a new President to represent you.