Lots of news out of tonight’s Committee of the Whole, specifically:
- Staff outlined several options for middle school assignment, including an updated map of how MS feeder patterns could look and a recommendation to phase in the feeder patterns gradually. (See these handy-dandy lists–sorted by MS and by ES — which are way easier to read than the maps. I must caution again that these are draft proposals — not set in stone. There is a whole community feedback project happening in February and March, so everyone will have a chance to weigh in. I see some problems myself.)
- Staff also presented more specifics about transportation cuts already approved by the board, including a list of schools that will lose buses in 2011-12, and additional schools that will lose buses in 2012-13. Together, the two-year reductions will reduce the number of school buses operated by the district by 43 percent. (For more info, read the district’s excellent FAQ on the new transportation policy, here).
So, first up: building high quality middle schools in every neighborhood. This is the frame being used by the project team, and while it sounds kind of obvious, it’s still the overarching goal. It’s also honest, since it’s the district’s acknowledgement that not every middle school is where it should be. According to the presentation:
Creating quality middle schools requires us to build stronger programs and pathways in a number of areas: Academies/Magnets; GATE/Honors; Language Pathways; Special Education; Visual and Performing Arts.
In order to do this, the district has previously committed to several different projects: an ambitious redesign of special education, and enhancing and building language pathways K-12 to support English Learners (our legal obligation under the Lau decision) and to provide opportunity for every child to become bilingual and bicultural. There is good work underway to expand academies and magnet programs, but in my personal view, GATE/Honors definitely needs more attention. The Superintendent is also proposing to extend the school day at middle schools to 7 periods in order to accommodate the increased language pathways, estimates this would cost almost $6 million; another option might be a 4 x 4 block schedule that would have students alternating courses on a MWF and TuTh schedule — according to the Superintendent’s statements tonight, the cost of such a block schedule would be similar to adding a 7th period at all middle schools, but provide additional course choices to students.
So how would MS enrollment work? The staff presented three options:
- Choice – forgoing a middle school feeder pattern at the current time and identifying other ways to accommodate expected growth in demand for middle school seats.
- Implement K-8 feeder patterns for 2012-13, which would allow the district to quickly realize the benefits of virtual K-8 pathways but could create a sense among families that the patterns unfairly create “winners” and “losers,” undermining the expected benefits of the policy.
- Phase in K-8 feeder patterns, by using the feeder patterns as a “tiebreaker” in MS enrollment. This would encourage voluntary parent participation in building virtual K-8s, but would mean that benefits would be realized more slowly.
Staff and the board’s clear preference was for the third option, which would make feeder patterns more voluntary. There was some discussion over the proposed order of tiebreakers, since tonight’s proposal prioritized feeder patterns over younger siblings — most Board member’s disagreed and thought younger siblings should still be the top preference, followed by feeder-pattern preference, then CTIP, then attendance area.
Next steps: staff will continue working on the project plan, incorporating feedback gathered by PPS and the PAC, which will be leading the community engagement effort over the next two months. A final proposal will come to the Board sometime in May.
Then, the transportation proposal. As I’ve previously written, the Board last month voted to cut transportation by $1.4 million over two years, going from 44 buses in 2010-11 to 25 by 2012-13. Tonight’s presentation detailed the staff’s plan for phasing in those cuts.
The staff presentation has lots of detail on which schools will lose what buses when, but by 2012-13 these schools will lose all bus service: Alamo, Argonne, Buena Vista, Cleveland, El Dorado, Glen Park, Hillcrest, Lafayette, McKinley, New Traditions, Ortega, Rosa Parks, Redding, Sheridan, Starr King, Stevenson, E.R. Taylor, Tenderloin, Ulloa, and Visitacion Valley Elementary.
Remaining bus service will be prioritized to allow students living in CTIP1 (low test score) areas access to language programs and K-8 programs. Additionally, schools that are already have robust ridership from CTIP1 (Lakeshore) will be able to keep their buses. Busing to all or most non-SFUSD afterschool programs will be eliminated.
I don’t feel we have much choice but to cut transportation, and I’d rather spend precious dollars on actual programs than moving students around. At the same time, I understand it’s important to preserve access, and I think the staff plan does a nice job of balancing our budget realities with the Board’s priorities. I am most worried about the transition from one system to another — I know there are going to be lots of families who depend on the buses and will be taken by surprise by these cuts.
Review the detail in the staff presentation, and then offer any feedback you might have on the district’s online survey. You can also print out this form, fill it out, and return it according to the instructions on the form.