Enormous numbers -- OK, several, but that's something, anyway! -- of our readers have expressed great concern over Examiner education reporter Julian Guthrie's future. "Hey, what's going to happen to that woman who wrote that memo?" is how this concern is usually expressed; we reply that we don't know, and, well, party chitchat moves on to other topics, as party chitchat will.
But differences between Guthrie and Chronicle education reporter Nanette Asimov -- whom, in a leaked memo, Guthrie was caught scheming to bump as lead education reporter when the staffs of the two papers merge to publish the new, Hearst-owned Chron -- surfaced again last week when Guthrie reported the San Francisco Unified School District planned to fire 79 teachers. "The City fires 39 teachers," read the headline on Guthrie's Wednesday story; the next day, she wrote a follow-up claiming that as many as 40 more teachers, this time at the high school level, could be fired in a few months.
Not so, Asimov shot back Friday. "School district denies firing teachers," her story was headlined; she quoted the district's human resources director, Bill Rada, as saying, "The Examiner story was absolutely erroneous."
Well, exactly how erroneous is "absolutely erroneous"? "There was no firing. Let's start with that," said Phyllis Hampton, an assistant to the school superintendent. "Miss Guthrie retracted and corrected the story in Saturday's paper."
Actually, what Guthrie wrote was, "The Examiner reported incorrectly this week that as many as 79 teachers would lose their jobs -- the elementary and middle school teachers -- and, at the end of the year, another 40 at secondary schools. In fact, an estimated 78 teaching positions will be eliminated. These eliminations will include the firing of some teachers and the transfer of others."
We checked in with Asimov. "How many teachers do I understand are being fired?" she asked. "None."
Oh, for a raft in the storm-tossed teapot! Eventually, Rada explained that after some shuffling of staff and the elimination of 10 positions that hadn't even been filled, 14 teachers had been issued emergency or temporary teaching contracts; they'll work as day-to-day substitutes until mid-January, when they really will be let go. "We tried to provide a soft landing for them," said Rada. As to the high school teachers the Ex says will be laid off: "There very possibly could be another 30 to 40 teachers who would need to be released. That figure is still an unknown."
With some trepidation we turn our back on Ms. Guthrie to take up the happier task of announcing the winner of our contest to supply everyone's favorite San Jose-based newspaper with story ideas. There has been some caviling: Dan Pulcrano, editor of the Silicon Valley Metro, writes, "Aren't you being a little cruel to the poor Mercury News?"
Um, yes -- but isn't that the point? Besides, a little honest criticism can be the basis for much meaningful personal growth -- or, in Dog Bites' case, prolonged sulking, but let's focus on the best-case scenario -- and we think the Merc can benefit from our readers' efforts to help its staff come to grips with San Francisco in all its mystery and wonder.
First, we'd like to share some highlights from our entries, like these no-doubt-future Merc stories from Chris Lester: "Rods and Reels Conspicuously Absent at Fisherman's Wharf"; "BART No Relation to Simpsons Scamp"; and "Blonde Ponytail Pulled Through Back of Baseball Cap Popular Among Marina District Women."
Let us also honor Bill Caulfield for the brilliant "Baseball season heats up in San Francisco"; Bill also suggests: "Streets are confusing in Big City: It's just plain hard to find your way around in San Francisco. The diagonal slash of Market Street confuses everyone crossing from SOMA to the Financial District. Downtown street addresses follow no discernible pattern. The worst of all: numbered streets downtown, numbered avenues to the west!"
A reader who declined to be identified contributed "A Bridge Two Far: Not one, but two bridges link S.F. with the outside world"; "Fogbound: Experts say cool air brings moisture to the city"; and "The Future Is Now: Modern underground rail system connects city dwellers."
Jesse Berney is our first runner-up for this features page natural: "Sourdough Bread: Hoo-boy, do we have plenty. Any discussion of San Francisco history is surely incomplete without a mention of the city's famous fog-kissed sourdough bread. You'll find it everywhere, from a hearty eggplant and arugula panini to delectable mango blackberry French toast to the croutons in the succulent chicken Caesar salad you just had during lunch with the biz-dev folks. Some starter yeast is descended directly from that used to bake bread for the '49ers -- the 1849ers, of course!"
Still, we believe we have to award first place and the prize -- a copy of the Silicon Valley Handbook -- to Dog Bites' poet emeritus, Steven Appleton. Mr. Appleton once again demonstrates the flair that originally won him his title with "San Francisco: A Small-Town Big City With Hills. After dozens of interviews with prominent local citizens, the Merc has learned that many consider San Francisco to be a big city, on par with New York or Chicago, but with a distinctively small-town character. This urban-village split-personality is reflected in the City's unusual topography, which includes a number of steeply sloped hills, surrounded by flatter areas."