Tonight the Superintendent sent a memo to the Board listing the effects if Prop. 30 and/or Prop. 38 don’t pass. It’s not good, and includes $10 million in additional forced closure (furlough) days this school year — school would end with a half day on Thursday, May 23 instead of a half-day on Friday, May 27–as well as $6.5 million in additional mid-year cuts. And then there’s 2013-14.
Though many school advocates feel Prop. 38 is better for schools in the long run (here is a more detailed comparison of the two measures as well as a fact sheet), the measure has never polled above 50 percent. Prop. 30 had polled above 50 percent until recently, but because of negative advertising the measure is now supported by less than a majority according to polls. Though I have long advocated a “yes/yes” position on the two measures, with the reasoning that asking voters to choose between the two dooms both to failure, I think now during the stretch it is imperative that education advocates impress on voters who care about our schools that Prop. 30 must pass. In other words, do whatever you want with Prop. 38 (I’m voting yes) but please, whatever you do, vote YES on 30.
Most people — my children among them — think SFUSD let out for the 2011-12 school year on last Friday, May 25. Nope! Today was actually the last day of the school year, but all the schools and district offices were shut due to budget cuts. If you emailed the Superintendent or other member of the central office staff, chances are you got some version of the following autoresponder:
Thank you for contacting me. I will be out of the office until Wednesday May 30th. All SFUSD schools and central services departments are closed for the Memorial Day holiday on May 28th and for a forced closure day on May 29th, caused by inadequate state funding for public education.
It’s important not to let forced closure days go unnoticed — there have been eight of them in the past two years, representing thousands of dollars in pay cuts to teachers and other staff, and close to two weeks in lost education for students.
To learn more about how schools are [un]funded in California, and some possible short- or long-term solutions to the problem, here are some great reports to read:
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.
Yesterday and today have seemed like one long Board of Education meeting — a grand total of 7 and a half hours when all was said and done. Tonight’s meeting was mainly about public comment and about the unpleasant but necessary step of approving layoff notices for 279 teachers.
We heard almost 90 minutes of public comment on various site-based budget decisions that will result in cuts to programs: Washington HS, for example, will probably have to cut back on course offerings in language and other electives; Lincoln HS has cut its music offerings (arts funding through Prop. H is protected, but the site has chosen to focus spending on visual arts rather than music). Parents at Bryant Elementary came to protest the proposal that their school would feed into International Studies Academy for middle and high school; teachers from El Dorado Elementary and Marina Middle School came to protest the layoff notices. Probably (at least for me) the most emotional moment of the night came when our student delegate, Athena Creer, tearfully told the visitors from Washington and Lincoln about the lack of programming at her high school (Burton) and expressed resignation that schools just aren’t able to offer what students want. She was right to point out the inconsistencies across high schools in our own district and her comments were thought-provoking. They were also tragic, and refocused the room on the real problem: it’s not only that some schools should keep what they have, but that ALL schools should have more.
This week, teachers from up and down California are declaring a state of emergency and saying: No More. On last night’s news I saw at least one SFUSD teacher arrested for occupying the state capitol; each day there are activities to focus different constituencies on the state budget crisis and what it means for our futures. On Friday there will be rallies across the state for anyone who doesn’t think the status quo is OK. (Locally, our rally will be held in Civic Center plaza starting at 4 p.m. )
We thanked the teachers tonight for their advocacy and then did what was necessary, though deeply wrong: voted to issue several hundred layoff notices before the May 15 deadline.
- The Board adopted a new proposed contract with SEIU Local 1021;
- The Board accepted for first reading a proposal to place a $500 million facilities bond on the November ballot; the proposal will be vetted and discussed at a Committee of the Whole on May 17;
- The Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the May 9-13 State of Emergency Week of Action sponsored by the California Teachers Association;
- The Board accepted for first reading a proposal to clarify the role of the Community Advisory Committee for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) – the proposal will be heard at the next meeting of the Rules, Policy and Legislation Committee.
- In its report to the Board, the Parent Advisory Council issued several clarifications and responses to questions raised in last night’s Student Assignment Committee meeting on the middle school feeder plan, most notably that the PAC had never reported “predictability” as a major concern of parents in student assignment.
Just home from six-plus hours of committee meetings, the first of which was the City-School District Select committee held at City Hall in the gorgeous Board chamber (they have way nicer digs than the Boardroom at 555 Franklin — not that I have any ideas! I like the school board. I do, however, covet the City’s microphone system, which allows you to add your name to a list for the chair if you wish to speak, rather than the system we use across the street, which is to hiss at the chair and repeatedly turn your microphone light on and off in order to get a word in edgewise. If the chair is mad at you h/she might pretend not to see you, which only causes louder hissing and more emphatic button pushing).
Anyway, SFUSD Budget Director Reeta Madhaven led the Supervisors (Avalos, Chu and Cohen) and Commissioners (Fewer, Maufas and Norton) in a presentation of our steadily worsening budget outlook. We’d heard the presentation earlier this month in a Committee of the Whole, but familiarity does not make the numbers more palatable. Due to the failure of the legislature to put a tax extension on the ballot, we are left with two alternatives: the Governor’s original doom and gloom scenario from January (which we were calling “Scenario B” but is now our best-case scenario), requiring cuts of $330 per student, or $25 million, for 2011-12, and deeper cuts for 2012-13; OR an “all cuts” budget that could require cuts of $800 per student or more. SFUSD staff has not yet completely costed out an “all cuts” budget, preferring to wait another week or two until the Governor releases his May budget revision (the “May revise”). But the California Budget Project (CBP) has published a district-by-district breakdown at what an all cuts budget might look like, using an estimate of $764 per student — for us, they say it adds up to an estimated $41 million cut. Remember, we already cut $113 million from district spending in the two-year budget we passed last spring — that cut was supposed to cover 2011-12 as well as the current year. It’s kind of staggering to think about.
In tough times, art and creative expression can be the best strategy. Check out this response to the budget crisis from students at LAUSD’s Millikan Middle School, a performing arts magnet school. (Looks like embedding has been disabled for this video so you’ll have to watch it on the YouTube site. But it’s worth it. )
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: