What’s up in SFUSD? Lots.

Welcome back! School starts August 19, and our first Board meeting of the new school year is tomorrow evening, August 13.

Administrators returned to work on July 31, and heard this rousing speech by  Superintendent Carranza to set the stage for the 2013-14 school year. I know it’s long, but it’s worth listening to in its entirety. Some will reject the message completely, and feel it doesn’t speak to them or to their children. That would be missing the point: really, the Superintendent is talking about ALL children — about living up to what we say we’re about as a diverse, high-quality public school system:

Then, a few days later, we heard our district and seven others across California were approved for a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)  — the law formerly known as NCLB. This is big too — the waiver means that we will be able to recapture money that has been controlled by Federal policy directives: paying for private tutoring services that have little oversight, for example, or spending on additional compliance activities after schools or districts haven’t been able to meet arbitrary test score targets.  There is good information here and here — you will be hearing more about this waiver so it is good to understand the basics now.

And how did we do on those tests, anyway? Okay, but it depends on where you look. Here are some different perspectives:

Finally, some very sad news: SFUSD arts education champion Ruth Asawa Lanier passed away on August 7. Ms. Asawa was a world-renowned sculptor who took on the challenge of making sure that every public school child in San Francisco had access to excellent arts education — she succeeded beyond many people’s wildest dreams (though Ruth herself was never satisfied — she always knew we could do better).  Two years ago, Commissioner Wynns finally convinced Ruth to allow the school district to name School of the Arts after her– christening it now and for always the Ruth Asawa School for the Arts. I can think of no better tribute than to finally realize the dream of bringing the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts to Civic Center, to its rightful place as another jewel in the crown that is the corridor occupied by the San Francisco Opera, SF Jazz Center, the SF Ballet, the SF Symphony, the Herbst Theater, and many other arts organizations.

And we have a budget!

Just getting home after a long meeting, but a substantive one: the Board had a lengthy budget discussion and passed the 2013-14 district budget unanimously.  The district will receive $360.58 million in unrestricted general fund revenues and spend $378.424 million, drawing down the beginning balance of $34.102 million to  about $700,000 after the required $15.566 million reserve.

There are a lot of big questions the Board has about the current direction of the district, including:

  • The special education budget is bigger than ever, representing about 25 percent of the general fund when special ed transportation costs are included — Commissioners are increasingly worried that the annual growth in special education spending is unsustainable and asked for more clarity on how the district expects its current investments to pay off in reduced future costs and better academic outcomes. The CAC for Special Education has posted some great analysis and data on its web site;  committee members spoke at the Board meeting and expressed concern that the district’s plan to invest in professional development and coaching for teachers — while needed — might divert too much money away from the classroom. My personal feeling is that while accelerating expenditures are alarming, it’s not time to change course: we have been identified as significantly disproportionate in how we identify students of color for special education, and are now required to spend 15 percent of our Federal special education allocation on interventions in general education. General education teachers desperately need more tools to help students who are struggling achieve, so that special education is not the district’s only safety net for students who aren’t achieving at grade level. Coaching and professional development are the best ways to provide general education teachers with the tools they need. We’ve reduced our spending on out-of-district private school placements for students with disabilities, by almost $5 million since I got on the Board.  But our choice-based student assignment system increases our special education transportation costs, and one of my goals over the next year or two is to look at ways to maintain equitable treatment of students with disabilities in our system while decreasing our exposure on transportation.  Overall, though, I think the request for more clarity in the district’s expectations and strategies for the next few years would be a good thing and I support the need for vigilance in gauging the return on our increasing investments in educating our students with disabilities.
  • One of the Superintendent’s centerpiece initiatives — Multi-Tier Systems of Support, or MTSS–is still confusing for board members and members of the public. Essentially, the initiative seeks to place resources where they are most needed, so that schools that need more supports get more supports even as all schools get a base “package” that includes ample counselors, nurses, librarians and other support staff.  Fully-realizing this vision will take more money than we currently have, but there have been significant investments in the current budget in social workers, counselors and nurses for many schools.  Elementary area teams will now consist of an Assistant Superintendent, and Executive Director, a Family and Community Engagement Specialist, two teachers on special assignment who can provide instructional support to principals and schools, as well as clerical support and a small discretionary budget. The expectation that goes along with this is that area teams will be more effective and proactive at problem-solving so that complaints are less likely to languish and fester. Some Board members worry, however, that this represents a big expansion in central administration, and that it represents a dismantling of site-based autonomy and decision-making.
  • Board members also expressed concerns about the perception that there is a lot of “new money” represented by the passage of Prop. 30 and the state’s rapidly improving economic outlook, and asked where this “new money” could be seen in the budget. The answer to that question is complex, because you first must accept the Superintendent’s argument that we are climbing out of a deep hole represented by the cuts of the last five years (see cartoon below). It helps if you remember the general fund revenues vs. expenditures I cited at the top of this post: even with the “new money” from Prop. 30 and additional taxes, we still expect to spend about $18 million more than we take in in revenues in 2013-14. That $18 million deficit represents people, programs and instructional days that otherwise would have had to be cut in the coming year. The “new money,” is simply helping us climb out of the hole rather than sink deeper:  gasping fish 2
  • The 7-period day for high school: Tonight Commissioner Haney introduced a resolution urging the district to expand A-G qualified course offerings at high schools; the Superintendent introduced a proposal that would lessen the credit requirements for students attending continuation or county high schools. Both resolutions will be discussed in August when the Board reconvenes after its July recess. Most of us agree that our students will have a much easier time meeting the more stringent A-G graduation requirements in place for the Class of 2014 and beyond if we are able to offer a 7-period day, but it’s expensive and Board members wanted to know how the Superintendent proposes to get there.  Similarly, common planning time for teachers is a widely-endorsed way to improve student outcomes, and Vice President Fewer introduced a resolution last summer asking the Superintendent to implement common planning time at all schools by the end of this year. However, the Board has not voted on this resolution as yet because transportation and other logistical issues make it daunting to fund and implement.  Board members also asked how to make common planning time a reality in coming years, given our belief that it is a best practice in improving achievement.

That’s it for now: I’m going fishing for the month of July (metaphorically, not literally.  As my husband likes to say, fishing is boring until you catch a fish–then it’s disgusting. And sorry for all the fishing references).  I’ll start blogging again in August. Happy summer vacation everyone!

On tonight’s agenda: June 11, 2013

This evening is shaping up to be quite busy — we’ll  issue a final vote on the Superintendent’s proposed Local Hire policy and discuss the newly-introduced district budget, as well as the state budget deal announced earlier today.

Local hire has been in the works for many months, and last week the Board had an intense discussion on the final proposal at the monthly Committee of the Whole. The Superintendent and staff have incorporated a lot of Board feedback on how the policy should be structured and overseen, and the main components in the proposal the Board will vote on tonight (assuming there are no major amendments) are:

  • Primary responsibility for implementation of the local hire policy will reside with contractors bidding on any Proposition A 2011 Bond projects with a contract value of $1 million or more;
  • Contractors must agree to hire at least 25 percent local residents in each of the seven major construction and building trades (plumbers, iron workers, carpenters, laborers, electricians, painters and carpeting/soft-floor layers) when bidding on 2011  bond projects — if, after verification, they have not satisfied this requirement they will be subject to a number of suggested sanctions or remedies for non-compliance;
  • Compliance with the district’s local hire policy will be reviewed biannually by the Board’s Buildings and Grounds committee;
  • The above and other provisions of the district’s local hire policy will be implemented through a negotiated Project Labor Agreement for the 2011 Facility Bond program.

This has been a challenging proposal to work on, since school bond construction projects are complex and governed by a whole set of arcane laws, rules and labor agreements. In addition, our bond program is truly a jewel in the SFUSD crown — it’s pretty much unheard of for a school building program to be issued an audit with no findings whatsoever, and it shows how well-managed and efficient our $1 billion bond program has been over the years. Some, including our citizen’s bond oversight committee, fear that a local hire policy will raise our costs and decrease efficient management of the program, but it’s also true that the economic benefits of millions of dollars in financing provided by local taxpayers should find their way back into the local economy. In the end, no one completely knows what the effects of a fully-implemented local hire policy at the City or the school district will be, and the job of the Board in future years will be to make sure we don’t do anything to diminish the excellence of our bond program.

On to the 2013-14 budget: School districts are required to submit a balanced budget to the state by June 30 or face consequences, and tonight the Superintendent will introduce his proposal for first reading and discussion by the Board. The document is a work-in-progress, but I am very pleased with the work the staff has done to make the budget document a little more user friendly. The first 36 pages of Volume 1 are a great overview of how the district spends money, where revenues come from, and generally how the school district is organized — the rest of the book breaks out various Central Office department budgets.  (Volume 2 contains school site and early education department budgets).  We’ll conduct a hearing on the district’s plans for “flexible” Tier III categorical funds (read the overview section referenced above for a full explanation of what that means) and also hear about the budget deal just reached today between the Governor and the Legislature on the Local Control Funding Formula. In a nutshell, the deal gives districts a higher base grant but reduces some of the supplemental grants the governor had initially proposed. The controversial “concentration grant,” for districts with high concentrations of low-income students, will remain, but the threshold for qualifying for a concentration grant will rise.   I’m not clear exactly on how the deal will shake out for SFUSD, but we’ll hear a staff presentation tonight.  In conjunction with our budget discussion, I have introduced a resolution asking the Board and the district to formally support the Local Control Funding Formula proposal, so we’ll also vote on that.

Long day . . . with news and meeting recaps

Update (4 p.m. Wednesday): I’m very sad to report that Mikaela Lynch was found dead today. My heart goes out to her family and her community at Sunset ES. I was at the school with the Superintendent this afternoon and everyone is devastated. I’m very thankful to the teachers and paraprofessionals who dropped everything to help with the search — I only wish this story did not have such a sad ending.

Tuesdays are always my long day — starting at the normal time but ending much later due to Board meetings. I feel guilty, too, since I didn’t post a recap after the April 23 meeting — so I’m behind as well as tired. Time to power through:

Developments in corruption investigation: In mid-2010, about halfway into my first-term, then-Superintendent Garcia and then-Deputy Superintendent Carranza grimly informed the Board that the district had discovered very questionable expenditures and grant reporting practices in the Student Support Services Department. In short order, district leadership moved to tighten up its practices and the case was handed off to the District Attorney’s office for further investigation.  Today, almost three years later,  District Attorney Gascón announced that four former and two current district employees will be charged with felonies related to the investigation, which is still ongoing. I’m grateful to the District Attorney for the hard work he and his staff have put into discovering the truth and bringing misdeeds to light, but it’s still a punch in the gut to know that this level of fraud was occurring on my watch — even though I nor anyone else in leadership couldn’t have known what was going on until whistleblowers came forward with key information. (Read the school district’s news release on the charges here).

SFUSD student with autism goes missing: I’ve also been very engaged with the search for a 9-year-old SFUSD student who is nonverbal and has severe autism. The little girl, Mikaela Lynch, was last seen running down a road leading from a house in Clearlake on  Sunday afternoon, and I am incredibly touched and grateful that half a dozen staff members from her school have gone to Clearlake to assist with the search.  Mikaela cannot respond to her name and is reported to be wearing little or no clothing — anyone with ANY information that might be helpful should call the Clearlake Police Department at the number listed on this flyer (which also contains photographs and other helpful information). The district is covering the cost of substitutes while school staff is participating in the search.

May 14, 2013 meeting: The Board voted to increase developer fees (money school districts may assess on property developments to offset increased financial demands on schools from new residential and commercial/industrial developments). Residential development projects will now be assessed $2.91 per square foot planned, but the Board at some future date will consider lowering that assessment for affordable housing that meets specific requirements. In addition, the Board adopted the LEA plan (recommended reading), which is required by the state annually to detail progress on closing identified gaps in achievement between groups of students –e.g., English-speakers vs. English learners; the plan must also spell out additional actions the district will take if progress is not made. Finally, we honored the Parent Advisory Council on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, and The Arc of San Francisco for its incredible partnership and support in the establishment of our Access SFUSD: The Arc classroom for students with moderate to severe disabilities ages 18-22. (Photo courtesy of Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufas).

Honoring Access SFUSD - The Arc team

Public comment: There was a group of Bessie Carmichael parents and students, accompanied by Filipino community leaders, to complain about leadership at the school; in addition a large number of teachers, paraprofessionals and their supporters in United Educators of San Francisco came to protest the Board’s decision to issue final layoff notices for about 140 certificated staff.

April 23, 2013 meeting brief recap:  I’ve been feeling guilty for a few weeks that I never posted this recap. At the April 23 meeting, the Board adopted a revised instructional calendar for 2012-13 (May 31 will now be a full day rather than a half day) and authorized the issuance of low-risk short-term notes that improve cash flow in anticipation of tax revenue. Furloughs for all employees in 2013-14 have been rescinded. The Superintendent also introduced  (as requested by the Board in the resolution passed in March of this year) a proposed Local Hire policy that will be considered in detail at a Committee of the Whole on June 4 and come up for a final vote at the meeting of June 11.

May round assignment letters are in the mail

Late this afternoon the Board received an email from Darlene Lim of the Educational Placement Center confirming that Round II letters were mailed today. Quoting from the email:

EPC has completed the Round 2 May Placement process and here are some preliminary results. We will see much movement at the K and 9th grade levels.
  • We processed 3851 total applications or amended requests, Transitional K – grade 12
  • 1310 (34%) of the students received one of their choices
 
Grade Applicants # (%) received choice
TK 134 59 (44%)
K 1299 519 (40%)
6th 503 108 (21%)
9th 748 294 (39%)
 
Notification letters will be mailed out today.  Families will have until May 24th to register at the school sites.
They may also submit a waiting pool request and medical and family hardship appeals by the 24th.

Annual student assignment report is out!

The district has released its analysis of the student assignment process for enrollment in 2012-13  (to be abundantly clear: we are currently enrolling for 2013-14, so this report contains data and analysis for those who applied for school entry in August 2012).

The report will be discussed at the Student Assignment Committee tomorrow night, April 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street.

April 9 recap: A day late and $43,000 short

A light agenda last night, with only two items of note: a final vote on the Public Education Enrichment Fund spending plan for 2013-14 and final adoption of the Superintendent’s proposed policy on inclusive practices. Lots of public comment, too.

First up, the inclusion policy. As my comrade (and chair of the district’s Community Advisory Committee for Special Education) Katy Franklin summed it up this morning, “When you work so long for something to change, and then after 10 years, it does, it’s a weird feeling of happiness, relief and exhaustion … Still much work to do, but this is a fantastic start.”  Yep — I got pretty choked up as we were voting but there was really nothing else to do but go ahead with the meeting.

Next up:  PEEF spending. It hasn’t happened for quite a while, but thanks to the Mayor’s decision in late January to appropriate the entire amount called for in the City Charter (in lean budget years the City can pull a “trigger,” reducing the appropriation by 25%), we have a lot more PEEF money to spend next year (for background information about the PEEF, go here, here and here).  In large part, the Board was fine with the Superintendent’s decision to put a large chunk of the additional money (about $2 million in the third-third or “Other General Uses” portion of the fund) into a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) initiative. Among other things, the money would go to hire a STEM Director, three program administrators and 14 teachers on special assignment to develop curriculum and support schools in expanding their STEM focus.  We also agreed with the decision to put $7.5 million in restored Sports, Libraries Arts and Music (SLAM) funds towards:

  • Making sure that every school has a librarian present at least two days a week;
  • Expanding arts offerings at the middle school level; and
  • Expanding all SLAM offerings at Superintendent’s Zone and Intensive-tier schools (based on a cluster analysis of variables like academic performance and trends, human capital, and demographics schools in SFUSD are classified in four tiers — Challenge, Benchmark, Strategic and Intensive).

However, the Board spent almost 45 minutes discussing a proposal from Vice President Fewer to restore the level of funding for restorative practices to the original $911,000 proposed back in 2010 — the first year after the Board adopted its policy to add restorative practices to the district’s discipline policies.    The proposal represented a $43,000 increase to the Superintendent’s proposal to fund restorative practices at $868,000 — not a lot of money when you consider that the entire PEEF budget totals $50 million. Still, we had a robust discussion about where to find the money, and dug deeper into several line items   — we came away with a good understanding of some of the more obscure parts of the proposal. In the end, the Superintendent agreed to take the $43,000 from the STEM proposal and put it into restorative practices. 

The entire PEEF proposal–prepared prior to the Board’s amendments last night–can be found here.