Category Archives: budget

Working through the 2012-13 recommended budget

Last week, Superintendent Garcia presented his last budget to the Board, for passage at the June 26 meeting (the last Board meeting of the fiscal year). At a special meeting tonight, the Board dug into the budget, asked questions, made some speeches and suggestions, and considered (as required) the proposed “flexing” of certain categorical funds (“Tier III categoricals”). It was a long night — the Board started in closed session at 4:30 pm, and did not adjourn the special meeting until after 10 p.m.–but that’s not so surprising because the district’s budget is so complex.

Highlights

The district expects to start the 2012-13 fiscal year with an unrestricted general fund balance of $46.2 million. $15.5 million of that is the unspendable-under-most-circumstances “designated reserve”, which means we have a healthy cash balance of about $30.5 million. Unrestricted revenues are expected to come in at $331.1 million, and the district will spend all of that plus the $30.5 million in cash, bringing expenditures to $361.6 million.  The district expects to end the year with just $230,000 in cash after the designated (unspendable) reserve.

The district’s assumptions for 2012-13 include four forced closure (furlough) days for most staff and five forced closure days for unrepresented (management) employees; they also assume the district will use Prop A (parcel tax) funds to pay for three professional development days for district certificated and classified staff.

Below, you can see those figures plus projections for 2013-14 and 2014-15 as things stand now:

Of course, the district will have to submit a version of this chart to the state that does not have red ending balances and reflects a fully-funded designated reserve — if we don’t, we risk state takeover.  And unfortunately, it’s not so easy as just promising to spend less, then figuring out what to cut next year (as if that’s easy). The district has to actually identify potential cuts for the state, and demonstrate that it is taking actions to actually make the cuts. (Unlike state government, which just says it will cut but then never does, but that’s another story).  In our case, we are in mediation with UESF on changes to their contract that would help realize these savings, but there are also other challenges: the SIG funding will end after 2012-13, which represents an ongoing loss of $15 million; in addition we expect the Rainy Day Fund to be exhausted as a resource by 2014-15.

Tier III

Beginning in the 2010-11 school year, the state began to allow districts to “flex” funding for 39 “categorical” programs — funding that is restricted for specific purposes and/or populations — designated as “Tier III” programs by the state.  In return, districts must hold a public hearing detailing what portion of the money is to be “flexed” and what the intended use of those funds will be.  Last week’s Board meeting was supposed to serve as that public hearing, but Board members and members of the public were not satisfied that the information provided at that meeting gave us enough specificity on either point, so the do-over was tonight.

In 2012-13, programs like deferred maintenance for facilities ($2.2 million), incentives to hire P.E. teachers ($800K), art and music block grants ($725 million) and adult education ($430K) will be entirely flexed (swept into the General Fund for use on other priorities), while others like Gifted and Talented Education, alternative credentialing programs for teachers and the paraprofessional to teacher support program (helping aides get the intern teaching and extra credit hours they need to become certificated teachers) will only be partially funded. Some, like fee waivers for needy students taking AP tests and professional development for reading and math, will be fully-funded.

There was a spirited discussion about all of this tonight, which was the intent of the public hearing requirement in the first place. In the end, five Commissioners  (Yee, Wynns, Norton, Mendoza, Murase) voted to accept the Superintendent’s recommendation for flexing Tier III funds, while two (Fewer, Maufas) voted against.

How to read the budget

The Board also had a robust discussion about how to improve our communication of the budget overall. The budget book is 400-plus pages, and several Commissioners (myself included) feel that it doesn’t highlight the right things. It’s really impossible to understand unless you also have a copy of the previous year’s budget book alongside to compare how different departments were staffed and funded last year versus this year.  Suggestions included:

  • Add a “prior year” column to each department and school detail to enhance comparisons;
  • Add a narrative to each department and school detail to highlight what changed and why from year to year. For example, last year there was a Multilingual Department, with 7.5 FTE (full-time equivalent)  and $830K worth of funding, and a Lau Plan Implementation department, with 27.4 FTE and $4.4 million in funding.  This year, there is just a Lau Plan department, with 35 FTE and $4.8 million in funding. I know enough about the district to be pretty sure that Multilingual was folded into Lau, which makes sense because the work of the two departments overlaps quite a bit. The FTE numbers pretty much work, but somehow the two departments lost $400K. What got cut, exactly?  There’s no way to tell from the current budget book — and you wouldn’t even know what you were missing if you didn’t compare the 2011-12 book and the 2012-13 book side-by-side.
  • Can we do what the City does? Apparently the City has an “award-winning” budget book according to Commissioner Murase. What does it take for them to produce their book each year and how could we learn from that?

Anyway, the best single thing one can do to better understand the district’s budget is to read the narrative pages of the current proposal, pages 1 through 40. Then read them again, cross-referencing the narrative with the exhibits on pages 41 – 67. Once you understand those two sections, you’re ready to start digging into the central office and school site detail pages that make up the rest of the book. Still, departments like special education will be pretty difficult to understand without a staff person at your side to help define unfamiliar terms and demystify why the whole book is organized the way it is. 

Recap: District budget takes center stage

Tonight’s meeting was the first meeting in June, which means the Board is now embarking on one of the most important things we do:  approving the district’s budget.

In some ways, getting the big fat budget book (caution, big PDF) is an anti-climax; we’ve been hearing for months that the budget is bad, really bad, but when the book finally drops, there aren’t lots of angry people at the meetings because it’s already summer. School sites got their preliminary 2012-13 budgets in February, and so parents, teachers and principals have already made the tough decisions — layoff notices have been issued and programs have been cut.**  Really, the most revealing thing about the budget that was released tonight is what cuts central office will sustain, but that is very hard to figure out with just the 2012-13 budget book — you need the book for the budget approved for 2011-12 (caution, another big PDF. If you are a glutton for punishment, adopted SFUSD budgets going back to 2009-10 are downloadable here). Tonight, for this post, I’m at a disadvantage, since I left my 2011-12 budget book in the Board office and only have my 2012-13 book.

Overview

SFUSD is now projecting a beginning unrestricted general fund (UGF) balance of $46.1 million in 2012-13 — comprising about $16.1 million in 2011-12 required reserves (not spendable in any circumstance other than state takeover) and about $30 million in cash. The district projects it will take in $331.1 million in revenues to the UGF, and spend about $361.5 million (assuming forced closure days and other concessions from teachers, paraprofessionals and other UESF-represented employees — it’s not clear which concessions are included in the budget figures and which are not).  After the 2012-13 required reserve of $15.5 million is accounted for, the district is left with a scant ending balance of $230,000 going in to 2013-14.

Constraints

In addition to maintaining the required  (and unspendable under any imaginable circumstance other than state takeover)  reserve funds,  school districts in California must also file a budget that shows positive cash flow over three years. If a district cannot show that it will meet its obligations for three years in the future, its financial status is certified as “qualified” or “negative.” Currently in California, almost 20 percent of all districts are in qualified or negative certification — an all time high. And that’s before the 2012-13 revenue projections–including the “nuclear winter” scenario that results if Governor Brown’s tax measures or the Munger initiative don’t pass in November –are completely figured in.  My friends on the Oakland and West Contra Costa Boards have impressed upon me numerous times that state takeover — even though it might seem tempting to let someone else make the tough decisions — is the worst thing a community can experience.  My objective, in evaluating the Superintendent’s budget proposal, will be to make sure we do not risk San Francisco’s ability to determine for itself how best to meet an uncertain future for school funding.

What comes next


The Board will discuss the 2012-13 budget at a Special Meeting on June 19 (the meeting will start sometime around 6:30 p.m. — I don’t have a precise time because there is a budget committee meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. that evening, and as soon as the committee meeting ends, the Special Meeting begins — there’s a long, technical story behind this).   There will also be community meetings for the public to hear more about the budget:

  • June 18, 6-7 p.m., Thurgood Marshall Academic HS, 45 Conkling Street,  SF 94124;
  • June 21, 6-7 p.m., Everett MS,  450 Church St, SF 94114

The district’s budget team has also set aside “office hours,” on June 18 from 2-5 p.m. Community members or small groups can request an appointment by sending an email to budget “at” sfusd.edu.

The Board will vote on the 2012-13 budget at the June 26 Board meeting — also the meeting where our new Superintendent, Richard Carranza, will be sworn in by departing Superintendent Carlos Garcia. 

**Layoff notices to most elementary school teachers were rescinded on the last week of school, in a calculated risk and show of goodwill to UESF –which is locked in bitter contract renegotiations with the district.

Other items on tonight’s agenda:

  • Scholarships!  UESF, United Administrators of SF, The Association of Chinese Teachers (TACT),  Alliance of Black School Educators and other groups announced their scholarship winners this evening. It’s always a day-brightener to see deserving students who are heading off to college with a little bit  (or sometimes a lot) of tuition money as a reward for exemplary work in SFUSD high schools. One of those honored was Joyce Zhang, a 2012 graduate of Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and one of this year’s student delegates to the Board — Ms. Zhang received the prestigious Incentive Award scholarship to U.C. Berkeley!
  • Non-discrimination policy:  To align district policy with a new non-discrimination law (AB 9) at the state level, the Superintendent has proposed a revision to the district’s existing non-discrimination policy. The proposal was already vetted in the Rules, Policy and Legislation committee and forwarded with a positive recommendation. It will return for a final vote on June 26.
  • Real estate: Also on tonight’s agenda was a renewal of the district’s $65,000 annual contract with CBRE, a real estate brokerage that provides professional expertise and advice on the district’s real estate transactions. Board members had a brief discussion on whether we should bring this function back in house (where it resided until 2009-10).  The contract will be paid with the proceeds of the sale of 700 Font Street to SF State, but there are other questions about whether the district is realizing enough income from its properties — 1950 Mission chief among them.  Ultimately, the CBRE contract was approved by a majority of the Board (with Commissioner Fewer voting no) but with the direction to consider other alternatives for next year.


Recap: the rhetoric ratchets up

If you haven’t noticed rising tensions between the district and its main union, United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), you haven’t been paying attention.  The school district and UESF are again in contract negotiations, as the two-year agreement crafted in June 2010 expires June 30, 2012. In June 2010, the district was facing a $113 million deficit over two years (201o-11 and 2011-12), and UESF members and other employees gave furlough (unpaid) days and other concessions to close that gap.

Those concessions expire on June 30, but the budget crisis is not over, based on an analysis by Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh at tonight’s meeting. California school districts are required to submit board-approved three-year budgets by June 30 of each year, and the SFUSD figures–based on the passage of tax measures on this November’s ballot–appear in the chart below (note that the figures only represent the Unrestricted General Fund — the largest and least restricted pot of money the district spends). There are additional monies — facilities bond funds, special education funding from the state and Federal government, student nutrition reimbursement and other revenues– that are not included here. Many of these programs (special education and student nutrition are major examples) also require a contribution from the Unrestricted General Fund to continue a minimum level of service. So the figures below do not include revenues from restricted programs but do include any contributions of unrestricted funds that are required to keep programs funded by restricted funds completely solvent.

You might also have heard of two state revenue initiatives just concluding the signature gathering phase to qualify for the ballot — the Governor has one, called the “Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act,” and the California PTA and civil rights attorney Molly Munger have another, called “Our Children Our Future.” Each claim to raise money for education, but it is beyond the scope of this post to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each. Anyway, districts are being encouraged to budget as if the Governor’s initiative passes; to be prudent most are preparing two budgets: “scenario A (taxes pass)” or “scenario B (taxes fail).” Since Governor Brown’s initative trumps Our Children Our Future if both pass, SFUSD and other districts are using pass/fail outcomes for the Governor’s initiative as the best/worst case scenarios.

SCENARIO A: UNRESTRICTED GENERAL FUND IF TAXES PASS

What the numbers mean:   The school district began the current year with $55.8 million in the bank, which includes $16.6 million in “designated reserves.” These are funds that the state will not let districts spend, under any circumstances, because these funds are expected to be available to state regulators if and when an insolvent district is taken over. In plain language, school boards and district administrators do not have the authority to spend designated reserves. In SFUSD’s case, that leaves $18.7 million in cash that can be applied to the 2012-13 beginning balance.

2012-13: If you add the unspendable reserve of $16.6 million to the available $18.7 million in cash left over from 2011-12, you get a beginning balance of $35.3 million. Current spending projections, which include the expiration of the UESF contract concessions from 2010-11 and 2011-12, add up to $372.5 million. Expected state and Federal revenues add up to $318.6 million. After the beginning surplus of $35.3 million is added in and the required unspendable reserve is subtracted, the district is looking at a deficit of $35.5 million at the end of 2012-13.

2013-14 and beyond: Without any cuts (on top of the cuts we have made in previous years), and/or concessions (remember that earlier contract concessions like furlough days expire on June 30,2012), the negative ending balance in 2012-13 and subsequent years (indicated in red in the table above) is is a problem.  The state will take districts over if they cannot demonstrate a positive ending balance at the end of the next fiscal year; they put you on a watch list and/or begin to intervene if you cannot demonstrate a positive ending balance for the following fiscal year or the year after that.

SCENARIO B: UNRESTRICTED GENERAL FUND IF TAXES FAIL

What the numbers mean:  By comparing the A/B scenarios, you can easily tell that revenues take a hit in 2012-13 and 2013-14 if the taxes don’t pass, which has a corresponding effect on the ending balances for each fiscal year. Still, it’s also apparent from Scenario A that even with new revenues, education funding in California is not at all out of the woods.

How things stand now:  There is a great deal of uncertainty around the district’s budget, not just because of the unknown outcome of the tax proposals (both of which may appear on the November 2012 ballot).  In addition, district leadership and UESF are far apart in their understanding of the district’s fiscal situation, and of what is affordable and what is not. Last week, district negotiators declared that they had reached an impasse with UESF, but union negotiators disagreed with that position and believe there has not been sufficient discussion of their proposals.  The district has appealed to the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to determine whether there is any use in the sides continuing to talk or whether a mediator should be appointed. (It would take hours for me to describe what each side has proposed, so if you are really interested you can find descriptions of district proposals here and descriptions of UESF proposals here).

The bottom line: As a Board Member,  I have to decide whether the projections/scenarios above are valid, and whether the funding priorities that will be proposed in the Superintendent’s 2012-13 budget (to be introduced for first reading in early June) are fiscally responsible and in line with the Board’s policy priorities. On Thursday, UESF is holding the first of two votes required to authorize an eventual strike, and its members must decide much the same things: are the district’s publicly disseminated budget scenarios valid? Are the district’s proposals fiscally responsible and aligned with the district’s academic and policy goals? How do the UESF proposals align with the district’s academic policy goals, and are they equally as fiscally responsible as the district’s proposals?

Determining the answers to these questions is not easy, especially since the picture at the state level is still so unclear. Money that is expected today may fail to materialize if the taxes don’t pass in November.  In declaring impasse, the district has asked for an independent mediator to evaluate the arguments on both sides, and help craft a proposed settlement that (in his or her judgment) addresses both sides.

So, layoffs . . .  Until there is an agreement, the district must take steps to be sure its three-year budget is balanced ahead of the June 30 deadline. In February, the Board voted to issue 333 preliminary layoff notices to certificated employees (administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, etc.) — those preliminary notices must be issued by March 15.  In its resolution to issue those notices, the Board agreed to skip teachers in 14 Superintendent’s Zone schools, a controversial decision that required review by an Administrative Law Judge.

Yesterday, the judge issued her decision and ruled that the district must conduct layoffs according to seniority, instead of skipping teachers at some schools altogether. Though many Board members believe our original action would have had benefits to the Superintendent’s Zone schools — many of which are historically low-performing–after the judge’s decision we unanimously rejected the Superintendent’s proposal to proceed with the skip and instead adopted (6-1) a substitute resolution that follows seniority to issue permanent layoff notices to 210 teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, counselors, etc. and eight administrators.  As I said in my remarks before voting tonight, the board tried to do something noble by attempting to keep staffs at the Superintendent’s Zone schools intact — now we will just have to find other ways to support these schools and reduce their high rates of staff turnover.

Other items

  • A petition to open a new KIPP charter high school was introduced and sent to the Curriculum and Budget committees. It will return to the full Board for a vote probably on June 14.
  • A technical fix to the Board’s policy on required qualifications for new JROTC instructors (requiring them to enroll in a P.E. credential program soon after being hired rather than the original language, which stated they must already be enrolled in a P.E. credential program) will be heard in the Personnel and Budget committees and return to the Board sometime in June.
  • Parents from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy came to protest the  hiring process for their interim principal.
  • A member of the public became angry when he saw President Yee and I chuckling during the layoff discussion — I can understand why it would seem insensitive to be joking during that discussion, and the timing was bad. Still, what we were laughing about was unrelated to the layoff matter being discussed — it was rueful acknowledgement that we had utterly bumbled parliamentary procedure in introducing an “amendment for substitution”  as a “substitute motion” in place of the Superintendent’s original motion, and then calling for a second at the wrong time. Our mistakes required not one but two gentle corrections by Ms. Evelyn Wilson, our long-suffering Parliamentarian.
  • Read “Schools Under Stress,” a report issued today by the education think tank Edsource.  It’s a very thorough discussion of all the budget woes facing California schools.

Feb 28 meeting recap: layoffs will skip Superintendent’s Zone schools

Despite some tears and a few tense exchanges between Board members and union leadership, the Board tonight voted 5-1 (Fewer, Mendoza, Norton, Wynns and Yee in favor, Maufas opposed, Murase absent) to:

  • Issue preliminary layoff notices to 123 administrators and 210 instructional staff (teachers, nurses, counselors, etc), as well as 35 early education employees and 106 paraprofessionals (91 others will see their hours potentially reduced);
  • Conduct layoffs according to seniority but skip certain high-need credential areas (math, science, bilingual or special education) and all teachers working in the 14 Superintendent’s Zone schools (they are: Bryant ES, Bret Harte ES, Cesar Chavez ES, Carver ES, Drew ES, Flynn ES, John Muir ES, Malcolm X ES, Paul Revere K-8, Horace Mann/Buena Vista K-8, Everett MS, Mission HS, Thurgood Marshall HS, and John O’Connell HS).
  • The HR department presentation with data/logistics is here.

No one likes layoffs, and authorizing the issuance of layoff notices is the toughest vote the Board takes each year. The process is flawed in many ways — the state doesn’t pass a budget until June (or often later) and yet state law requires districts to notify employees in March if they might not have a job in August.  Uncertainty is bad for individual employees, for the administrators who don’t know who will staff their classrooms in the coming year, and for students who don’t know if their teachers will be there for them when they come back after the summer. 

This year, the annual layoff discussion came with the added twist of skipping the Superintendent’s Zone (SZ) schools. The Superintendent created the SZ in the 2010-11 school year, in an attempt to better focus resources on the district’s lowest performing schools and most underserved neighborhoods. The correlation isn’t perfect — there are a number of low-performing, high-need schools (El Dorado ES and Cleveland ES come to mind) that aren’t in the SZ, and some of the SZ schools are not low-performing (Malcolm X). However, the general idea behind the SZ is that schools (and students) in the Bayview and Mission neighborhood need extra attention and resources.

There has been confusion over the SZ, partly relating to the fact that our SIG schools — designated by the state and Federal government as some of the state’s lowest-performing schools deserving of highly-restricted but generous restructuring grants — are a subset of SZ schools. So, SIG schools get money that other SZ schools don’t get, and that money is governed by a separate (and strict) set of rules. In addition,  after the passage of Prop. A in 2008,  the Superintendent is allowed to unilaterally designate 25 schools “hard-to-staff” and offer teachers in those schools additional salary for teaching there.  All SZ schools are hard-to-staff, but not all hard-to-staff schools are SZ. Get it?

Still, the bottom line for the Superintendent in making the proposal to skip the SZ schools from layoffs was that we have invested millions of dollars in additional salary, professional development, and other resources in the chief asset of the SZ schools: their people. To simply drop them into a seniority-based layoff, he argued, would represent a waste of that investment.

The union leadership had its deeply-felt arguments as well: the annual layoff dance is akin to fighting over crumbs, when the real fight is better waged in Sacramento; and seniority is a bedrock issue for teacher unity — dividing the district’s teacher corps across schools is a strategy that demoralizes staff across the district and doesn’t address the real problem, which is that schools improve when we invest resources in them. Besides, there are many other struggling schools (the aforementioned El Dorado and Cleveland being excellent examples) which will now suffer a greater impact from layoffs because their equally-junior colleagues down the road will be skipped. To the teacher’s union, the Superintendent’s arguments were simply a divide and conquer strategy that represent a shot across the bow in yet another tough contract negotiation year.

Make no mistake, the decision to ask the Board to approve a wider authority for skips this year was provocative — the district created the SZ in 2010-11 but did not at that time articulate a plan to use it to make a case for “special skills and competencies” (the legal standard required under CA law to skip a teacher in a seniority-based layoff).  In February 2011, when we were asked to approve the layoff criteria for the current school year, SZ schools were not established as a skip criteria. There has never been a clearly-published criteria for what makes a school an SZ school, nor one for determining when a school has improved to the point that it is no longer eligible for the SZ.  Putting all of this together, tonight’s vote was a very bitter pill for the union to swallow, and the leadership let us know that they did not appreciate it.

So . . . my reasons? I had a hard time with this and spent a lot of time today trying to find a way to remain true to my commitment to support teachers in all of our schools, as well as my commitments to the students in our lowest-performing schools and poorest neighborhoods. I thought hard about a potential compromise — skipping just the nine SIG schools rather than all 14 SZ schools, but realized that such a move would create a disproportionate impact on four Bayview schools in the SZ — Charles Drew, Malcolm X, Bret Harte, and Thurgood Marshall. In the end, I found I accepted the need for layoffs should our budget picture become the worst case scenario, and decided to go with the lesser of two evils: a layoff strategy that preserves our investments in 14 of the district’s most struggling schools, as opposed to a layoff strategy that could, when all is said and done, put those investments at risk. Hopefully, if the district accesses the City’s Rainy Day Fund and reaches agreements with our unions that put additional money on the table, few or no layoffs will be necessary; but we won’t know that for a few more months.

Finally, I want to commend my colleagues for their respectful, thoughtful and heartfelt discussion on this very difficult issue tonight. Commissioner Fewer deserves special mention for going first and taking the most heat for her passionate and forthright stance. Her actions tonight took great courage, and made it a little easier for everyone else to stand with her.

But wait there’s more! Transportation policy update

We were all pretty much in a daze after taking the required four (count ‘em, four!) votes on the various aspects of the layoffs, so it came as a surprise to me that a lengthy update on General Education transportation policy had also been scheduled for tonight’s meeting — somehow I missed it in the agenda!

But this was an important update as well — many more schools will see transportation cuts next year according to the schedule first announced in December 2010.  The following elementary schools are expected to lose transportation entirely in the 2012-13 school year, subject to final approval in mid-March: Alamo, Argonne, Buena Vista, Cleveland, El Dorado, Glen Park, Hillcrest, Lafayette, McKinley, New Traditions, Ortega, Parks, Redding, Sheridan, Starr King, Stevenson, Taylor, Tenderloin, Ulloa, Vis Valley.

A number of other schools will gain routes, in order to maintain or expand access to specific citywide programs (language immersion, K-8) from CTIP-1 neighborhoods.

For those seeking more information about ongoing transportation cuts/realignment, here is the Powerpoint presented to the Board this evening.

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.