Saving the best for first: meeting recap

Tonight’s meeting started out great, and went downhill from there. First up: a unanimous vote in favor of a resolution to finally name School of the Arts after renowned artist, arts advocate and local treasure Ruth Asawa. Even Commissioner Wynns cried, and that takes some doing. It was a sweet moment.

Second: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Kim on establishing an Ethnic Studies course in every San Francisco high school.  The program would pilot at up to five high schools in 2010-11 and expand district wide in 2011-12. There are some very good reasons for implementing/expanding an Ethnic Studies program: for one thing, we need a 9th grade social studies course that will help prepare students for World History in the 10th grade. Second, students are clearly enthusiastic about the course, judging from the crowd that came out in support of the Fewer/Kim resolution — and increasing student engagement is a major goal for the Board. Third, SF State has offered our students college credit for passing the course, and significant help in getting the course started in SFUSD.  Still, I do have a few personal reservations about Ethnic Studies as a discipline. An email I received tonight from an administrator (a person who is committed to social justice and not at all a reactionary person) sums it up:

 ALL history classes should be reflective of the students’ history in the classroom. The danger with ethnic studies is that it takes everyone else off the hook. We should offer ethnic studies AND do a better job of integrating ethnic studies into everything else.

Commissioner Kim spoke eloquently tonight about being a product of Ethnic Studies, and movingly about discovering the words of Malcolm X and other great leaders and people of color.  I agree, it’s thrilling to read about people who have triumphed over oppression and led others out of oppression as well.  In my U.S. History courses, I learned about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass, about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and about the oppression of Chinese-Americans even as they helped build California and other western states.  I learned about Navajo culture and about the Trail of Tears, and about American imperialism around the Pacific Rim and in Central America.  That history is all of our history, not isolated histories of isolated peoples. I hope we are not letting history off the hook or dividing the discipline into Ours and Theirs.

Anyway, I was a little taken aback when I was hissed by the crowd for simply asking how likely it was for an Ethnic Studies class to be approved by the UC system as meeting the UC system’s A-G requirements for entry (and graduation from SFUSD). This is not an idle question — we’ve tried several times without luck to have the class approved, and the resolution calls for the course to meet the “G” requirement.  In my question, I think I expressed clearly that I was OK with going ahead with a pilot, but that I was concerned about implementing the course district-wide without approval from UC that the course could meet A-G. Luckily, there was a UC representative in attendance who assured us that we could make the course meet A-G by introducing a co-requisite, like English or some other core course, to be taken concurrently with 9th grade ethnic studies.  Anyway, it’s fine to come to a Board meeting with a strong opinion, but it’s bad manners to hiss someone for asking a tough question.

The other issue for me was the budget, but the Budget Committee did a good job of coming up with a compromise that everyone could live with, so my concerns there were put to rest. Still, this is about $220,000 in new spending, and yes, we’ll have to cut something else to put it in place.  Final vote: 7-0.

Next up: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer, Kim and Maufas about expanding access to AP courses across the district. Now, this is a concept I strongly endorse. At CUBE last summer, several districts that are bigger, more diverse and lower-scoring than ours presented strong evidence that the challenges and academic rigor inherent in AP courses are very motivating and energizing for students, even when students don’t score well enough on the AP tests to earn college credit. The challenge and the rigor in and of themselves have a big motivating effect, and a positive effect on future achievement.  But–we’re in the middle of a budget crisis, and we can’t afford to do everything we know is right and beneficial for students. In the end, the authors amended the resolution to state the expansion of AP as a major priority for the Board, and directing the Superintendent to work on the issue, acknowledging our current budget constraints. Final vote: 7-0.

Then came the real fun of the evening: voting to authorize the district to issue layoff notices to hundreds of teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals. Members of UESF waited for hours during the earlier action items to argue in front of the Board that the district has not met its burden of proof, that we don’t have to issue layoff notices to paraprofessionals until April (certificated employees like teachers and principals must be notified by March 15, while paraprofessionals and other classified employees must be notified in late April– 45 days before the layoff date of June 30), and that the budget numbers are based on projections that may or may not come true.  I hate having to look our unions in the eye and vote the other way, and yet I don’t see that we have any choice at all. The budget is only going to get worse in the next six months, and while its true that we don’t have to issue paraprofessional layoff notices until April, I’m not sure what the point of waiting would be. Wouldn’t you rather know now that you’re getting a pink slip, rather than waiting until April to find out? Hopefully, we’ll be able to rescind at least some of the pink slips, but not nearly as many as we’ve been able to rescind in past years.  Pardon my language, but it sucks. Final vote: Authorizing paraprofessional layoffs 5-2 (Maufas and Kim voting no);  Authorizing teacher/administrator layoffs 6-1 (Maufas voting no).

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10 responses to “Saving the best for first: meeting recap

  1. Jennifer, regarding changing the average teacher salary number in the WSF, that is a concept UESF has opposed in the past. Talk to your building rep about it – the thinking has been that abandoning teacher salary averaging could cause principals and school site councils to force out more senior (and therefore more expensive) teachers in favor of hiring newer (and therefore less expensive) teachers.

  2. Bernal Dad,

    Hey, I’ll admit: not one whit of best intentions being assumed right now by me. That said, I am not at all proposing that floating a property tax is the answer.

    There are real existing ways to save cash – or mitigate the layoffs’/cuts’ inequitable impact on high-needs schools. These include changes to the Weighted Student Formula/Average Teacher Salaries, significantly increased consultant cuts than what has been proposed, and many other ideas floating around staff meetings, PTOs, and so on.

    And again: I challenge you to consider what it is like to be a member of a school community that can expect annual threat of 80% layoffs, this year with some very real and very rotten losses.

  3. “The District chooses its priorities. It would be possible – and I speak as a budget wonk – to send far fewer layoff letters to staff and still plan to meet the 2% reserve. SFUSD does not wish to do this, or at least is unable to do so at present.”

    I’d be more charitable. As sucky as this is, if the BoE needs to conserve cash the notices being sent out means that if some measures to mitigate the deficit (like a parcel tax) don’t work out they have more freedom of action to make cuts earlier. If you’re going to have to cut, you’d rather do it sooner than later; later cuts mean deeper cuts.

    Disappointed in Maufas and especially Kim in voting no. Pretty cowardly letting other members of the BoE having to take the hard vote, IMHO.

    On the LGBTQ counselor and Ethnic studies: let’s not get all worked up about token amounts of money.

  4. Caroline,

    While I am aware of the possibility of state takeover and recognize that SFUSD prefers to avoid that possibility, it does not exonerate the District from its choices.

    The District chooses its priorities. It would be possible – and I speak as a budget wonk – to send far fewer layoff letters to staff and still plan to meet the 2% reserve. SFUSD does not wish to do this, or at least is unable to do so at present.

    It would be possible to seriously and actively look into how to mitigate the impact of layoffs on high-needs schools. SFUSD does not wish to do this, or at least is unable to do so at present. (Blaming seniority and the dread union does not exonerate SFUSD from the responsibility it has to all of the students in the District.)

    Critically, the state’s failure to fund its schools and its predilection for corporatist consultants and Eli Broad’s many-strings-attached dollars do not actually mean that the BoE has no choice. When the BoE gets a pass for sending out annual lay off letters that disproportionately impact schools in high-needs communities, we support continued systemic inequity.

    I am going to take SFUSD at their word and assume that they intend to go “Beyond the Talk”. Therefore, it is my responsibility to make clear when they fail.

    They have failed.

    And honestly, I challenge you to consider the annual impact of 80% of one’s colleagues receiving pink slips. The idea that “It happens every year – they’ll mostly be rescinded, don’t worry!” is exceptionally disrespectful to the real teachers working in very difficult schools.

  5. Extending AP, in practice, is hugely more expensive (and, I believe, hugely more rewarding) than creating Ethnic Studies. Perhaps you are right that we shouldn’t have spent the $220,000 on Ethnic Studies for next year, but the sad truth is that this sum is a drop in the bucket when compared with the cost of expanding AP in a way that is equitable. There is no way the Board could have supported the full cost of that action, so instead we chose to endorse the principle and put off the implementation, while spending a comparably token amount on a program that roughly five board members strongly supported. I’ve been candid that I didn’t put Ethnic Studies high on my list, but given the strong support of a majority of my colleagues, and a strong advocacy effort by the target group of students for the program, I didn’t see that there was much of a rationale to stand in the way. Let’s see if Ethnic Studies gets us somewhere.

  6. I’m with potrero hill dad. I have a very difficult time understanding any additional expenditures for new programs right now, when we are laying off teachers. Also, between expanding the AP program, an idea that has solid data behind it and would increase student achievement and maybe close the achievement gap, and starting ethnic studies, a new course without a track record, I think the board chose to support the wrong program. Expanding AP, in principle, is very appealing-namely, if you set high standards even for students who do not test as gifted, those students rise to the challenge. Not sure if this would pose an additional cost or not.

    In any case, the next 2 years do not seem to be the time to approve any additional expenditures no matter the merits given that SFUSD is laying off it’s most important resource – teachers.

  7. Jennifer, it’s a terrible situation, but I hope it’s clear that the Board of Ed has no choice.

    I saw that a young teacher wrote an article (now I forget where — one of my Facebook friends posted it) saying that SFUSD should just refuse to send the pink slips, refuse to balance the budget, refuse to play the game.

    But that leads to a state takeover of the district. When the state took over Oakland’s schools, the district was turned into a playground for the billionaire eduventurephilanthropists who wanted to rip school communities apart and experiment with their privatization fantasies. Then when their experiments don’t work, they rip apart THOSE communities. It’s a disaster.

  8. Potrero hill dad, first of all, the budget impact is lessened considerably because of the work done by the Budget committee Monday night. They repurposed some Federal professional development funds to go towards preparing teachers to teach the new course, and inserted a provision that would share the cost of the instructors between the central administration and the school sites. This means school sites that opt for the new course will have to cut something else to fit it into their schedules and budgets, but based on the demand we saw from students and community members last night, many school sites will want this option. And those that don’t want it don’t have to opt for it next year. I agree that the district-wide implementation in following years could be problematic, and it’s why I tried to have the issue come back to the Board after the pilot is complete next year. I was outvoted.
    Anyway, I don’t think it’s fair to say this is unproven — it’s just a different way of looking at history that is controversial in some circles. Was this action my top priority during a budget crisis? No. But it apparently was for other Board members, so they brought it up and pushed it to the top of the Board’s agenda. Once it’s there, should I oppose it simply because it’s not my top priority? I don’t see how that helps students.

  9. potrero hill dad

    It does not make sense to me that we are adding new unproven programs during this budget crisis. The justification for the lgbtq councelor could be used for any group of students; vertically challenged, non athletic students, etc. I am not challenging the merits, but the justification and lack of accountability. How will you prove the program will keep students in class. The ethnic studies sounds ghreat, but are all the other programs currently offered at a level where additional improvement is not warranted? What will be cut? How this pilot be evaluated? What objectives need to be met?
    The BOE does not have the courage to make these tough decisions. I appreciate the candor of this blog, but too often I have read reasonable agruments against proposals, but then deciding to approve more cash outlays.

  10. The budget situation is very bad, no doubt about it. However, the decisions the District makes reflect its priorities. Those decisions explain how seriously the District takes its own Balanced Score Card.

    I am a teacher at El Dorado. I am also a Master Teacher for SFUSD as a whole and just yesterday had nine observers in my classroom. I have advanced degrees and am tenured in SFUSD. By choice, I teach at a Title One school. By choice, I have already spent in excess of two thousand personal dollars on my classroom this year. By choice, I spent sixty hours at school over Winter Break. By choice, I hang out with my students over the weekend. By choice, I have written and been awarded nearly twenty thousand dollars in grants – one of which will not arrive until the fall, when it’s likely I won’t be around to see it.

    Why? Because SFUSD has chosen to decimate the teaching staff at my school. Despite the fact that we choose to be there – at a school where nearly 20% of all children are in counseling (that we’ve arranged), where 80% live in poverty, where SFUSD cannot provide consistent heating.

    We are SFUSD’s BSC. When you pink slip us, you make it very clear that equity is NOT a priority.