Category Archives: budget

Meeting recap: January 24, 2012

On tonight’s agenda:

  • A resolution commemorating the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Unified School District’s PTA (the organization’s celebration of that anniversary will be held February 10 at Patio Espanol — more details here - PDF);
  • Highlights of the school district’s (and its partners’) celebration of Black History month this February  – events include the African American Read In,  the African American Honor Roll celebration honoring 1,200 African-American SFUSD students with a GPA of 3.0 or better (February 29 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 6 p.m. $10 donation requested), as well as the annual oratory contest sponsored by the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators (Feb. 25 at Thurgood Marshall High School, 8 a.m. to 12 noon);
  • “Sunshining” of proposals and counter-proposals for contract negotiations with United Administrators of San Francisco and United Educators of San Francisco;
  • Approval of the annual spending plan for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) — Commissioners reviewed the plan at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, and heard testimony from members of the PEEF Comunity Advisory Committee suggesting that three activities (teacher recruitment, custodial services for early education centers and funding for the district’s new formative assessments) should be funded with other monies (district staff wrote a response to that report here). For more information and lots more documents, visit the  PEEF web site, which asks for a password but seems to let you in if you just click cancel. In the end, the Board appreciated the input but supported the original spending plan suggested by staff.;
  • Review and approval of the district’s annual independent financial audit — there were two minor findings related to attendance accounting in the district’s early education and afterschool programs, but the independent auditor expressed confidence that the findings were being addressed, and commended staff for a growing string of clean audit reports;
  • An overview of the Governor’s budget proposal released earlier this month – probably the only good thing I can say about this proposal is that it is very much not a done deal. For reasons I can’t quite explain, even the “rosy” scenario — where the Governor’s proposed tax increases passes — results in significant additional cuts;
  • Public comment from parents and community members at Alice Fong Yu and Paul Revere,  and introduction by UESF leadership of the union’s bargaining team for upcoming negotiations. A commenter last week asked me why I haven’t devoted much time in the blog to the competing statements of Paul Revere parents, and the reason is:  I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to muse publicly on personnel issues. This whole episode has been ugly and disruptive for everyone involved and I don’t see how it helps for me to “report” allegations from one side or another.  I did feel momentarily shamed by the comment from one Revere parent who noted the district’s swift response to an outcry from Alice Fong Yu parents when they protested changes to their immersion program (after a meeting with the Curriculum Committee and district leadership last week, a deal for a pilot program was struck that will increase the population of English Learners at the school but maintain its essentially “one-way” immersion model — and tonight the community came to thank us for our swift reaction).  Why weren’t we able to resolve the Paul Revere situation in as swift a manner? the Revere parent asked.  The answer is complex — personnel issues usually can’t be resolved in one meeting and certainly not in public; and there is not the same unified perspective in the Paul Revere community  – teachers and parents have  been vocal about their divided opinions on which direction the school should go. Still, he’s right that struggling schools can’t easily summon 100 parents in matching shirts to attend a Board meeting, but their concerns are just as pressing.

(Bad) news from the budget committee

Tonight the Budget and Business Services Committee met, and among other items, we got a blast of bad news in the form of the state budget update. It went like this:  Last week, the state Controller John Chiang announced that California’s tax receipts for the first month of the new fiscal year were over 10 percent– or more than $500 million– lower than expected. That’s bad, because the budget signed by Governor Brown in late June contained $4 billion in what the state euphemistically called “speculative” revenues.

Most of us who exist on a budget instinctively grasp that speculative revenues are not the same as, say, a regular paycheck. And in its wisdom, the state of California acknowledged this law of nature in its 2011-12 budget, inserting “triggers” for various levels of mid-year budget cuts if those hoped-for revenues didn’t actually materialize. (More about the triggers in this Sacramento Bee article from June).

Things start to get really bad for Californians (as if they aren’t bad already) if the state’s revenues as of November of this year are more than $1 billion behind projections; schools take a big hit if revenues are $2 billion or more behind projections.  Mid-year cuts are pretty much impossible for SFUSD due to our labor contracts, and the district will have enough cash on hand to pay our bills through next June. After that, though — things could get very difficult.

Commissioners stressed the need to start planning NOW for possible disaster, and asked staff to consider proposing another two-year budget like the one we developed for 2010-11 and 20011-12. We’ll all have to watch the state’s monthly tax receipts very carefully in order to have a better idea of what’s coming. Stay tuned.

The committee also heard:

  • A renewal petition for Metro Arts & Technology Charter High School, now quartered at the old Gloria R. Davis Middle School site in the Bayview district. The committee asked for some additional budget information to be presented to the full board, and passed the petition on with no recommendation;
  • A report from the Information Technology department with more detail about the district’s budget for the new Student Information System (dubbed the Student Data Redesign project) approved by the Board last year. Over the next five years, the district will spend $8.6 million to completely upgrade our student information systems and enhance schools’ ability to capture and track data on student achievement, demographics and other variables in order to better target our programs to student needs (the budget includes training for staff, new technology for school sites, and temporary positions needed to help us implement the new system). It’s a big effort, but the sorry state of district technology and data management makes such an investment imperative.

Board unanimously approves revised feeder plan

Tonight the Board unanimously approved the feeder plan recommended by the Superintendent.  Up until a day ago I was expecting a dissenting vote or two, but I think in the end the staff’s decision to modify the proposal to be a “tiebreaker” system until 2016-17 was the change that convinced Commissioner Wynns (notably the strongest doubter in her public comments previous to tonight’s vote) to support the plan.

I know that in the end it was the decision to refrain from an initial assignment and instead use a tiebreaker process that helped to convince  me. I heard a lot of the doubts about equity and access from parents who would receive preference into less-chosen schools; the PAC and PPS’s original recommendation to dump the feeder plan altogether was very compelling.  But in considering all of the factors, the unknowns and the overarching policy objectives, I finally came down on the side of the feeders.  Specifically:

  • The new elementary-to-MS feeder patterns will allow us to plan more rationally for MS improvements. That’s why the MS principals unanimously supported the plan, because they knew they would have more stable and robust enrollments at their schools AND because they knew the plan would help them build academic and social support bridges between their schools and the elementary schools that would provide their target enrollments.
  • Choice in school assignment isn’t, by itself, a school improvement strategy.  Our experience with a full choice-based assignment system has had some unintended consequences: schools that aren’t chosen have fewer resources and fewer ways to attract those resources, creating a vicious cycle; and choice creates a strong backlash among those who feel entitled to a nearby school but do not get it because it is competitive citywide.  And even though our previous choice system did allow some families to “discover” previously overlooked schools, it’s clear that over time it also supported starker segregation patterns and disadvantaged vulnerable school communities.  In other words, choice is great if you get one of your choices; not so much if you don’t. And since we are forecasting a coming bulge in middle school enrollment, finding a way to offer everyone a more equitable experience — and still allow people at least some ability to choose where their child will attend school–is becoming more urgent.
  • The “tiebreaker” phasing-in of the feeder plan allows some time for families to kick the tires of proposed schools before they are involuntarily “fed” into them through an initial assignment offer.  I believe schools like Denman, Martin Luther King and Visitacion Valley MS will benefit from families who are willing to take a second or third look if their first choices don’t pan out. One of the benefits we’ve seen with choice over the years is the incredible effect of critical mass — once parents see that families they regard as peers are happy at a particular school, they are much more willing to consider it as an option for their own children.

There was some discussion at last night’s Student Assignment committee and again at tonight’s meeting about whether to change the order of tiebreakers for middle school assignment while they are in effect (2012-13 through 2015-16). The PAC and PPS recommended that the Board move CTIP or some other “equity mechanism” above the feeder patterns as a tiebreaker, which in the end only Commissioner Wynns supported. I can’t speak for other Board members, but the reason I opposed giving CTIP higher priority in MS assignments is that I am not convinced yet that it does what we think it does;  I have concerns that it is simply advantaging a subset of families who happen to live in those zones but don’t otherwise fit the racial and socioeconomic profiles we are hoping to advantage.  I would like to see the effect of the strong CTIP preference on K applicant pools and school composition before I agree to “double-down” for MS enrollment. 

I do recognize that some people will be deeply upset and angered by the Board’s decision tonight. I don’t think the Superintendent and staff have done a good job explaining HOW they are going to improve some of our middle schools;  nor have they acknowledged the areas where we should be doing a better job. They actually haven’t even defined very well what a “quality” middle school is. I plan to continue bringing these and related topics to the Board’s Curriculum Committee to help guide the staff in developing an improvement plan for each of our MS.

Tonight the Board also heard about a little thing called the 2011-12 budget, which was introduced for first reading.  It was almost 10:30 p.m. by the time the budget item came up  (another item ate up more than an hour of the Board’s time before that) so there wasn’t really any discussion. The Board will hold an augmented Budget and Business Services Committee meeting on June 21 where the budget will be discussed in greater detail. 

What an “all cuts” budget looks like

Just home from six-plus hours of committee meetings, the first of which was the City-School District Select committee held at City Hall in the gorgeous Board chamber (they have way nicer digs than the Boardroom at 555 Franklin — not that I have any ideas! I like the school board. I do, however, covet the City’s microphone system, which allows you to add your name to a list for the chair if you wish to speak, rather than the system we use across the street, which is to hiss at the chair and repeatedly turn your microphone light on and off in order to get a word in edgewise. If the chair is mad at you h/she might pretend not to see you, which only causes louder hissing and more emphatic button pushing).

Anyway, SFUSD Budget Director Reeta Madhaven led the Supervisors (Avalos, Chu and Cohen) and Commissioners (Fewer, Maufas and Norton) in a presentation of our steadily worsening budget outlook. We’d heard the presentation earlier this month in a Committee of the Whole, but familiarity does not make the numbers more palatable. Due to the failure of the legislature to put a tax extension on the ballot, we are left with two alternatives: the Governor’s original doom and gloom scenario from January (which we were calling “Scenario B” but is now our best-case scenario), requiring cuts of $330 per student, or $25 million, for 2011-12, and deeper cuts for 2012-13;  OR an “all cuts” budget that could require cuts of $800 per student or more.  SFUSD staff has not yet completely costed out an “all cuts” budget, preferring to wait another week or two until the Governor releases his May budget revision (the “May revise”).  But the California Budget Project (CBP) has published a district-by-district breakdown at what an all cuts budget might look like, using an estimate of $764 per student — for us, they say it adds up to an estimated $41 million cut.  Remember, we already cut $113 million from district spending in the two-year budget we passed last spring — that cut was supposed to cover 2011-12 as well as the current year. It’s kind of staggering to think about.

Bad news from Sacramento: June election is dead.

The June special election is dead, officials in Sacramento agree. They disagree on who was more unreasonable in their demands, and therefore who should be blamed for the failure to JUST LET THE VOTERS WEIGH IN on whether the state should raise taxes.

What does this mean for SFUSD? I haven’t received updated guidance from the Superintendent, but last month the Board was told that without voter-approved tax increases, we would be looking at a $330 per student, or $20 million, cut for 2011-12.

I’ll keep you posted on the options.

Update: Listen to the Governor on the decision to end the negotiations:

Here we go again . . .

Tonight the Board voted to issue layoff notices to 140 teachers and 108 paraprofessionals, and to eliminate 32 teaching positions in the Child Development Program. Last week, the Board voted in closed session to issue layoff notices to another 139 administrators.

All of this can make one feel numb — since I joined the Board of Education in early 2009, I have been asked to vote for large-scale layoffs each March.  In a way, it’s kind of a dance: the state requires us to notify certificated employees who may be laid off by March 15, a date when districts generally have no idea what their final revenues will be; in addition, in order to trigger our eligibility for the City’s Rainy Day Fund (which may contribute as much as $8 million to the school district this year), the district must be facing layoffs.  So SFUSD must take steps to plan for the worst case scenario in order to avoid the worst case scenario.

Still, this dance will affect lives and classrooms across the district and it’s important to remember why we are here, again, this year: California does not adequately fund its schools,  and so again we are faced with the choice of whether to cut off an arm here or a leg there. None of the choices are good and all of them hurt.

Some of the speakers before the Board tonight said we had a choice — in the form of Federal “Edujobs” stimulus funds or Rainy Day Funds — to avoid layoffs. However, it’s important to remember that  the $10 million we have banked from Edujobs and the $8 million we are expecting to get from the Rainy Day Fund are figured into the scenario already, and that scenario has lots of IFs:

  • IF the Legislature allows Californians to vote on the Governor’s proposal to extend sales taxes and other revenue measures in June, and IF those revenue measures pass by a simple majority of the voters,  the Edujobs and Rainy Day money will basically help us avoid further cuts this year, and restore all of the positions noticed under today’s layoff vote.
  • But IF the vote to place the revenue measures on the June ballot fails to gain the support of two-thirds of the Legislature, or IF the voters do not pass those measures by a simple majority, then the Edujobs and Rainy Day money is figured into helping us avoid even deeper cuts.

A better, long-term solution is to make this process more streamlined and more humane. It’s silly to make districts forecast their staffing budgets in early March, before the state’s budget process has really even ramped up; it’s also silly to make districts forecast those revenues three years out as part of the requirement to pass a final budget by June 30  (a requirement that forces districts to be more conservative in managing their future liabilities than they might otherwise be).  Finally, we need to make sure that students and classrooms are insulated from the budget/layoff dance as much as possible.

Recap: Budget clouds, K to College and tough questions on PEEF

Tonight was another one of those meetings where, judging from the items on the agenda, I blithely assumed I’d be home to watch the end of Glee. No such luck. However, the Board did engage in several important conversations, so I guess getting home to watch the 11′o clock news instead was worth it (I do mind that I missed the State of the Union, though).

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What to watch in the week ahead

Update:  The Sacramento Bee has a list of Brown’s proposed cuts. The newspaper says Brown would provide the Prop. 98 minimum guarantee for K-12 school funding, as long as a package of tax increases succeeds on the June ballot. If the tax measures fail, Prop. 98 would be suspended.  Honestly, Prop. 98 is so complex I am not sure whether even the minimum guarantee is a good thing for schools.

Tomorrow, Gov. Brown will release his budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  If the signals from the administration are to be believed, this will be a “shock and awe” budget that will contain drastic cuts to everything from schools to social services.  Once Californians get a look at the depth of the cuts, the thinking in Sacramento goes, voters may be sufficiently softened up to consider tax increases.

The bad thing for school districts, however, is that we will have to prepare our 2011-12 budgets according to the proposal the Governor makes tomorrow. So things are going to look exceedingly drastic until there are reasonable expectations for new state revenues.

Locally, the Board will elect a leadership team (President and Vice President) for 2011 at Tuesday’s meeting.

A bad week for school boards

This has been a bad week for school board members in California and across the country — starting with a terrifying incident where an desperate member of the public threatened school board members in Panama City, Fla. with a loaded gun. Here’s the video:

Reader, I promise never to sneak up behind an armed gunman and hit him with my purse (school board member Ginger Littleton is being lauded for her bravery but acknowledges her act was “stupid”);  I have asked Superintendent Garcia to simply dive under the desk rather than argue with said gunman if we are ever — cross your fingers — in a similar situation. Still, the bravery and calm under pressure shown by all of these public officials in a terrifying situation is nothing short of amazing. The whole incident is sobering in its depiction of the desperation and hopelessness some people are feeling today — the easy availability of guns makes such an incident possible.  At almost every Board meeting, people come before us who are feeling very angry, desperate and hopeless — I am not sure we are fully prepared for what could happen if one of them were armed.

I fear what we saw in Panama City — the gunman was reportedly bipolar, and upset because his wife had been laid off by the school district – is just the tip of the iceberg. Last night school officials in Mt. Diablo Unified, just to our northeast, contemplated the desperate steps of closing up to seven schools, and the district is asking its employees for millions of dollars in wage and benefit concessions. District officials told the public that without the proposed cuts, they are on the road to bankrupcty and state takeover.

The same day, Governor-elect Jerry Brown had nothing but bad news to impart in a well-publicized education budget summit in Los Angeles:

The Democrat called education and public safety the pillars of a civilized society but warned that the magnitude of the deficit problem facing California is “unprecedented in my lifetime” and that the state must prepare for drastic changes.

“I can’t promise there won’t be more cuts, because there will be,” he told a gathering of school administrators, teachers union representatives and other public education officials from across the state during a special budget forum in Los Angeles.

Brown implored those at the forum, which focused on education spending, to “please sit down” when they see his budget proposal on Jan. 10. “If you’re in your car, fasten your seat belt. It’s going to be a rough ride, but we’ll get through it,” he said.

Insiders say that the cuts being contemplated for the 2011-12 budget could reach $500- $750 per student – which could translate to an additional $20-$35 million reduction for San Francisco Unified (that would be on top of the $113 million in cuts we made this past year, which reduced the length of the school year by four days in 2010-11 and in 2011-12, along with many other painful cuts).

So what I think is that we are in for a very difficult year — maybe even more difficult than the one we have almost completed.  In the words of our aging diva Governor-elect (channeling aging diva Bette Davis in “All About Eve”): Fasten your seat belts.


In other news: I was suffering from some kind of virus last night, so I missed the Board meeting (which is why there’s no recap). But yeah: the Board voted to slash transportation by several million dollars (the cuts will be implemented gradually between 2011-12 and 2012-13).  I wrote at length about the proposal in my recap of the December 13 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.

The Board also voted to deny a charter to the C-5 International School, which was seeking  a Reggio-Emilia inspired K-8 school.

Welcome back . . . to the budget

After a restful Thanksgiving break (hopefully you had a restful break as well!), tonight I attended part of the Budget committee meeting to hear an overview of the Special Education budget. The basic facts – which I pretty much knew going in – are these:

  • Annual expenditures ($100 million this year, excluding transportation and legal fees) have gone up several million dollars each of the past few years, even though special education enrollment has remained basically flat. Some of this increase might be attributable to built-in increases in the teacher/paraprofessional salary scale, and/or the rapid increase in more severe disabilities — e.g., autism and emotional disturbance.
  • The Federal stimulus funding we received for special education ($6.5 million in each of the past two fiscal years) has been used to fund existing programs rather than one-time uses – which means, once this funding dries up at the end of this year, that we have a $6.5 million hole in the special education budget for next year.
  • It’s not going to be possible to plug that $6.5 million hole simply with cuts, so, look for the $35 million contribution from the general fund towards special education spending to grow larger.

Cecelia Dodge, our new Assistant Superintendent in charge of special education (she started with the school district in early August) said she believes that the amount of money we are currently spending on special education is enough for a well-conceived program; she added that she is looking to cut back on non-public school tuitions (around $14 million last year) and transportation (an astounding $17 million annually).  This would free up money for desperately-needed professional development.

There was a fair amount of discussion about how special education is funded, both by the Federal and state governments and by our central office. To review:

  • Under IDEA, the Federal government is supposed to pay an additional cost per student in special education, defined as 40 percent of the average per student expenditure nationally. However, the Feds have never paid their fair share as defined by the law – for example, in fiscal 2008 the Federal obligation under IDEA was $19 billion; only $10 billion was actually allocated to the states.  In our district, the Federal allocation is usuallly about 10 percent of our total budget. However, with the stimulus funding we had in the past two years, that share rose to something closer to 18 percent.
  • State funding is not derived from the actual enrollment of students with disabilities, nor the severity of those disabilities. Instead, it is an additional amount of money allocated per ADA (average daily attendance).  
  • Locally, most special education expenditures – teachers, paraprofessionals, speech therapists, transportation – are budgeted centrally. However, schools are given a very small per student amount in the weighted student formula to spend on materials and professional development for their special education programs. This amount – this year averaging about $40 per student enrolled in special education – is largely symbolic, meant to get school communities thinking about supporting the needs of their students in special education but not really enough to enact significant school-based change.

Finally, about that contribution: it’s my view that some contribution is completely appropriate, since it acknowledges the basic fact that all of our kids are all of our kids – some cost more to educate and others cost less. To strictly account for the cost of educating students with extra needs (where do you draw THAT line?) and demand every penny of that in additional funding from the state and Federal government would mean we viewed students who aren’t strictly average as being burdens. Are they really? If one of your children needs braces or requires an expensive operation, would you consider that child a burden on your family?

The real question is, how large should the contribution be? Is $35 million too much? One of the questions we asked the staff tonight was for some kind of accounting of how much different school districts – particularly ones similar to San Francisco in enrollment and other characteristics – contribute out of their general funds towards special education services.

Finally, we asked for information to be broken down differently so as to be more informative to Board members and the public. In the accounting we were given tonight, the cost of legal settlements were included but not the cost of hiring outside attorneys to negotiate them; non-public school tuition and fees charged by agencies serving our students were included but not broken out. Transportation was also not included. Board members asked for an accounting that would help us better understand what we are spending money on – staff, professional development, transportation, private school tuitions and agency fees, etc.   The committee asked for a return to this topic in two months, which would likely mean the January or possibly February meeting of the Budget committee.