Tag Archives: 2012

Big news on student achievement

The school district’s Academic Performance Index (API) for 2012 has been released, and it breaks through an important psychological barrier: 800. The state has set that number as the target for all schools, and last year the district fell just shy at 796. This year — 807.

“Surpassing the 800 API mark is a huge milestone for our city and our schools,” Superintendent Carranza was quoted as saying in the school district’s press release on the API data (PDF). “San Francisco can count itself among only a few large urban school districts in the State that have exceeded the 800 target for academic performance.”

Out of 98 schools reporting, 51 have an API score of 800 or above; of the schools with an API of 799 or less, most met their state “growth targets” — the minimum level of improvement expected by the state.

Of course, it’s important to keep these things in perspective –many schools did not meet their growth targets for all subgroups — African American students, Latino students, Samoan students, students with disabilities–and the school district continues to have a broad gap in achievement between different racial groups, between English speakers and English learners, and between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.  Still, the state has set the yardstick: an API over 800 means that more students are achieving at grade-level than not, and that is something to pause (briefly) and celebrate.

Download district schools’ 2012 API scores (PDF) >>>>>>>>

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. 

November 2012 ballot looks crowded with initiatives

Last week I was in San Diego for the California School Boards Association annual conference — and I’m working on a series of blog posts about issues I dug into there. Most pressing, however, is the number of initiatives that are being discussed to fix California’s revenue and/or spending, reform its educational and/or governance systems, or some combination thereof.

Qualifying an initiative for the ballot is not easy, so some of the measures we’ve read about will not actually make it to the ballot, but there are enough proposals in the works that political and education policy wonks are beginning to worry that the voters’ clear desire for a solution to our current problems will get lost in a confusing jumble of competing campaigns.

In the conference’s closing “State of the State” roundtable discussion on Saturday, CSBA’s legislative advocate Rick Pratt (soon to be the lead consultant for the Assembly Education Committee) didn’t mince words: “If all four [tax] initiatives make it to the ballot, none will pass.” And where would that lead us? Right back to where we are now, but a year later.

Here are proposals that received a lot of discussion at the conference:

  • “Think Long Blueprint for California”:  Billionnaire Nicholas Berggruen has assembled a committee of former legislators and heavy-hitters, including former Governor Gray Davis and former Assembly Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown. Its not-yet-public initiative would lower the overall tax rate but vastly expand taxation to services, raising at least $10 billion annually. It would form a somewhat scary-sounding Citizens Oversight Committee (appointed by the Legislature), with powers to unilaterally place initiatives on the ballot. Additional revenues would go to schools, but for specific, constrained purposes.
  • “2012 Kids Education Plan” : Ted Lempert, the director of the advocacy organization Children Now, has been working with stakeholders up and down the state to build a coalition of support for four principles that would form the backbone of an as-yet unseen initiative. These are: “a student-centered finance system”; “true transparency”; “significant workforce reforms”, and “new investments in education.” It sounds good, but the devil will be in the details.
  • “Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act”: The California State PTA and the civil rights organization The Advancement Project filed this initiative on November 30 and are beginning the push to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to qualify it. The law would raise $10 billion in new tax revenue for Pre-K-12 education, and require those funds to be spent “at the local school sites, where kids are, not district administration.” It would prohibit the Legislature from directing how monies were spent, placing the new revenues in a  trust fund. The initiative would require re-approval by voters after 12 years.
  • Other miscellaneous tax proposals include an oil and gas extraction tax, and a “split roll” which would suspend Prop. 13 for commercial properties, allowing them to be re-assessed every year.

Update: Just this afternoon, Governor Brown announced he has filed his own initiative. From the Governor’s initiative announcing his action:

My proposal is straightforward and fair.  It proposes a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, a modest and temporary increase in the sales tax, and guarantees that the new revenues be spent only on education.  Here are the details:

  • Millionaires and high-income earners will pay up to 2% higher income taxes for five years. No family making less than $500,000 a year will see their income taxes rise. In fact, fewer than 2% of California taxpayers will be affected by this increase.
  • There will be a temporary ½ cent increase in the sales tax.  Even with this temporary increase, sales taxes will still be lower than what they were less than six months ago.

More details on Brown’s initiative is here.