Category Archives: Not so great things going on

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.

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:

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.

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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.

The appalling failure to include Eliza Schaaf

Today I learned the appalling story of Eliza Schaaf, a 20-year-old woman with Down Syndrome who enrolled in an “Introduction to Ceramics” course at Southern Oregon University as a non-credit student (the university calls this “non-admitted status”) this Fall.

According to her mother, Deb, “Eliza has always been included with her typically developing peers throughout her educational career and through that has developed a very strong work ethic and sense of appropriateness in class. She thrives on watching and learning from others.”  But despite every apparent effort by her mother to prepare the university and assist in a smooth transition for Eliza,  administrators abruptly asked Eliza to withdraw from the course with just two sessions remaining.  Today, the southern Oregon newspaper Mail-Tribune reported that Laura O’Bryan, the University’s dean of students, upheld the decision in a letter to Eliza and her family:

In the letter, O’Bryan stated that Schaaf’s enrollment at SOU was a “novel situation” for the university.

“The non-admitted policy was not designed or intended to provide an avenue for participation to individuals who are not otherwise qualified for admission to SOU,” O’Bryan wrote.

I hereby wish to invoke the power of the Internets to show Southern Oregon University how wrong-headed they are by failing to see the benefits (let alone the moral imperative) of including a person with a disability. Stories abound of students with Down Syndrome, like Eliza, who are now attending college — Katie Apostolides of Massachusetts is one example (she’s been profiled in The New York Times and U.S. News & World Report); former prom king Zach Wincent of Illinois is another.  Last year, our own CSU-East Bay announced plans to create a college program for students with autism.

It’s happening, Dean Laura O’Bryan of Southern Oregon University — 35 years after the signing of IDEA, students who have experienced inclusive environments throughout their K-12 educations are now knocking on the doors of colleges like yours. Eventually, they’re going to gain access. Wouldn’t it be better if you figured out a way to welcome them?

What’s next for CSBA after Director departs?

My inbox has been active these past few days, ever since a Sacramento TV station aired a report investigating the compensation and spending habits of Scott Plotkin, the Executive Director of the California School Boards Association (CSBA). On Friday evening, CSBA announced that Mr. Plotkin would retire Sept. 1; until then he will be on paid leave, using up accrued sick time.

Details are scarce, and the CSBA Board is being tight-lipped because this is, ultimately, a personnel matter. But Mr. Plotkin’s compensation — reported as being in the area of $500,000 for 2007 and 2008 — has raised eyebrows, as has his use of corporate credit cards to withdraw significant sums of cash at Sacramento-area casinos. (I think I am safe in saying that it is almost never good news when you read the words “cash” and “casinos” in conjunction with “corporate credit cards.”)

What makes this story bigger than your garden-variety “executive retires under a cloud” news is that CSBA (a private non-profit organization) is funded through dues paid by member school districts — districts that are of course funded with taxpayer money. And in a time when schools are cutting back to the bone, and suing the state of California for equitable school funding, this news is spectacularly ill-timed.

 It’s horribly sad to watch a long, illustrious career in education policy come to such an abrupt end, and though I only met Mr. Plotkin once or twice I am sure this is not how he envisioned his retirement. Still, I think it was right for the CSBA Board to act quickly and decisively, because the credibility of the organization is at stake.

School districts pay tens of thousands of dollars to CSBA annually in dues and other fees, and taxpayers have a right to know whether their money is being well spent. In my 15-plus months representing SFUSD at the CSBA Delegate Assembly, I have never had cause to doubt that the organization was accurately and aggressively representing the concerns of the staff and students of San Francisco. But in the past few days, constituents have asked me what, specifically, we’ve gotten for our investment in CSBA, so here are just a few thoughts:

  • California has very few urban school districts, even though those urban districts enroll most of the state’s students. The overwhelming majority of delegates to the Delegate Assembly represent rural or suburban districts, and the policies of the organization skew towards those concerns. SFUSD’s active participation in CSBA over the years has clearly advanced the concerns of urban districts, which tend to have more low-income students, more students of color and more special education students than suburban and rural districts.
  • CSBA has a seat at the inner circle that makes education policy decisions in California. If SFUSD were to decide not to participate in CSBA, we would lose access to that seat at the table. This is hugely important because of our unique concerns as an urban district.
  • CSBA gives school board members from different districts a forum to connect with and learn from one another. I have learned a great deal from participating in CSBA workshops and seminars, and I know I am a better Board member as a result. I’ve connected with Board members across California and particularly in the Bay Area, and we’ve shared stories and strategies that have been mutually beneficial.
  • Last but certainly not least, CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance has won important legal victories that have increased funding for all districts in California. The negotiated settlement on Behavioral Intervention Plans last year is just the most recent example; that single settlement brought more funding into SFUSD than we have spent in CSBA  and Legal Alliance dues in decades. 

The CSBA Board has some work to do now, to rebuild trust among the dues-paying school districts and the tax-paying public. I have no doubt that the organization is more necessary and more useful than ever, but its practices and spending must be above reproach if we are to continue to advance the cause of adequate funding and sensible oversight for California’s school districts.

Irony, anyone?

Listening to Stan Goldberg’s interview with UESF’s Dennis Kelly. In his comments, Dennis reminded me that Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Paul Revere Elementary with great fanfare last May, hobnobbing with principal Lance Tagomori, students and teachers.

What a difference a year makes! Last month, the state named Paul Revere as one of the 5 percent of schools in the state classified as “persistently underperforming.” As a consequence of landing on the list, a school has four options — every one of which involves replacing the principal.  Sadly, Mr. Tagomori has told his school community that he has chosen not to come back to Paul Revere next year. (I need to say here that the district is not, at this moment, planning to fire any of the principals at the 10 schools — at five of them the site administrator has been in the job less than two years, and so are exempt from the potential consequences).

If Secretary Duncan shows up again, maybe we shouldn’t let him visit any schools!  Just kidding — really, the state is the entity that placed Paul Revere on the list of persistent underperformers. But it’s also true that the state’s policy arose out of our efforts to qualify for Race to the Top; by all indications the administration’s flawed policy prescriptions are soon to become the law of the land through the reathorization of No Child Left Behind (now “rebranded” the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – ESEA). So the Secretary must share the blame for pulling the rug out from under schools like Paul Revere.

Oakland Unified imposes contract on its teachers

Did you feel it? On Wednesday evening, a little earthquake rattled through the headquarters of the Oakland Unified School District and reverberated through neighboring school districts. In voting (unanimously) to impose its last, best and final offer on its teachers, the school board in Oakland has drawn the attention of many school boards and teachers’ unions up and down the state, because imposition is a very drastic step. 

Imposition means no more talking and no more compromises. It means “take it or leave it” and let’s get on with educating children. It also (in Oakland’s case) means no raises for teachers even though an independent fact-finding report noted that Oakland’s teaching salaries are quite low (starting teaching salary in Oakland is $39,000 compared to $50,000 in San Francisco) and suggested an increase. (I haven’t read the report, but apparently the fact-finder also said that OUSD’s financial situation is dire).

In Oakland, bargaining over a new contract has dragged on over two years, and the district only just regained local control after emerging from a state takeover. They have millions of dollars in state loans to repay, and have reached the same “cliff” in state funding that San Francisco and every other school district in the state has. Oakland school board members and Superintendent Tony Smith have both said that they felt imposition was the only choice they had, but their teachers are understandably furious.

What happens now? Well, either Oakland’s teachers will go on an extended strike or they won’t. A one-day strike is scheduled for Thursday, April 29.  For good coverage on the situation in Oakland, read Katy Murphy’s blog  “The Education Report.”  >>>>>