May 19: Budget meeting recap

Lots of items on last night’s Budget and Business Services Committee agenda. First up: the Superintendent’s proposal to align SFUSD’s graduation requirements with the University of California’s admission requirements, known as the A-G course sequence.  The presentation from the staff focused on the fiscal impact of making this change, which is not insignificant but actually less than one might think, considering we are going to need to seriously re-align our course offerings and institute support services for students who struggle with the more demanding series of courses.

Basically, it was estimated that we will need 20-24 additional teachers in areas like Algebra II and foreign language, but the expectation is that at least some of these new positions will be filled by existing staff who are now teaching classes we will no longer offer once the work of re-aligning our master course schedule is complete. We voted to send this back to the full board with a positive recommendation, but here are a few implementation issues that I feel still need to be resolved:

  • Special Education. In what I consider to be an unfortunate mistake, special education staff did not participate in the initial Study Team convened by the Superintendent as the first step to implementing A-G.  I have been assured that the Special Education department is now engaged in this project and participating in the work of realigning Special Education classrooms to meet A-G. This is very important, since I have pointed out a number of times that not one of our self-contained special education classrooms at the high school level currently prepares students in those classrooms for admission to four-year colleges and universities.
  • Support for students who need additional preparation to complete the course sequence. Many students offered public comment about the need to institute these new requirements in order to make sure we are holding our expectations high for everyone. I agree. But the fact is that at first there will be some students who have not received adequate preparation to allow them to meet the new requirements we are putting in place for the class of 2014.  So we need strategies and supports in place to help these students get to where we know they need to go. The budget presentation we received last night did not have enough, or really any, information on this point.

Next up: A proposed contract with the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (NUA) that would institute an extensive professional development at our high schools. This proposed contract has raised a number of local eyebrows because it is so large (after corrections to the original contract, the two years of partnership with this group would cost us almost $2.7 million). At last week’s meeting, I requested the item be removed for first reading and forwarded to the Budget committee, because I felt strongly that this proposal needed more discussion.

Last night, we heard presentations from an NUA executive, administrators who originally selected the program, as well as three principals who are interested in having the program come to their schools. I’ve also met with Dr. Eric Cooper, the founder of NUA, and met privately with staff to ask more questions about the program. I know I’ve done my due diligence, but quite honestly, I’m still very unsettled about this contract. I even went through the exercise of making “pros and cons” list to see whether I could discover the tipping point in either direction. Here’s an excerpt of the list:

  • Pro: 1) Intriguing results and great references from the other school districts where this group has done work (these include Albany, NY, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis);  2) the group has a unique focus on the issues of urban districts and attacking the achievement gap; 3) nothing else we’ve tried has managed to make much progress in closing the staggering achievement gap we have here in San Francisco — maybe it’s time to try something systemic, intensive, and radically different; 4)the proposed source of the funds is new funding from the Federal government issued because we are entering Year 3 of Program Improvement and targeted specifically at improving instruction –this is an important point because this funding can’t be spent on other priorities like reducing class size or buying supplies.
  • Cons: 1)This group’s charges seem to be exorbitant by most measures I’ve been able to unearth. I’m told that even the most high-end consultants for professional development charge less than the $3500 a day that is the NUA’s going rate;  2)high schools participating in this program would receive no other professional development resources or choices for the two years they are part of the program; 3) the contract would focus all of the new Federal resources targeted at improving instruction district-wide on the high schools; 4) the actual formula for NUA’s work is somewhat vague  and it is hard to understand what they do that we aren’t already doing/could contract with others to do for less. According to the materials I’ve reviewed, coaches come in and gather data to conduct an instructional assessment, then coach teachers extensively to help them learn strategies to engage the least-served students. Over the course of two years, teachers learn the strategies and begin to coach others — an important part of the model is that NUA says they “coach themselves out of existence.”

In the end, I just don’t know. I certainly don’t want to be the Commissioner who stands in the way of progress when what is needed is radical change. But at the same time, this just seems to be too much of a leap of faith. I might support the contract if it were much reduced — say, to cover this work at three sites, which would be enough to ascertain if this is truly something different and effective, or just same old, same old.  The committee decided, by general consent, to send the item to the full board with no recommendation, and the suggestion that the contract be reduced in size.

We also heard items on Commissioners Yee and Fewer’s Parent Engagement resolution (forwarded to the full board with a positive recommendation) and a proposal for a new “Gateway to College” program at the Southeast campus of City College of San Francisco (the point of this program would be to re-engage students who have dropped out and help them achieve a high school diploma and beyond); Commissioners raised questions about locating this program at the Southeast campus and the item was forwarded back to the full board with no recommendation.

Finally, we heard a presentation from Reeta Madhaven, our Budget Director, on the outlook in light of the defeat of the propositions on the Special Election ballot. While we seem in position to weather the remainder of this year and next year without serious damage, 2011-12 looks very bad, with a deficit of up to $30 million below the 2% reserve required by the state. Districts which fail to maintain a positive cash flow above the 2% cash reserve requirement are subject to state takeover. We will almost certainly be asked to take very painful steps to maintain positive cash flow for the three budget years we will be required to forecast as of June 30. Stay tuned! The next Budget Committee meeting will be scheduled for June 16.


2 responses to “May 19: Budget meeting recap

  1. If you check out the NUA website it lists SFUSD as a district partner that is “coming soon”. Is this contract already in the bag with the committee just creating the appearance of scrutiny?
    Trying to learn more about NUA I couldn’t gleen from their own website what kind of techniques they actually use to coach. I guess for $3500 a day you don’t want to give away your secret formula for success. I came to the same conclusion you did in Cons #4.
    As far as the great references, what references aren’t?
    What other similar programs were considered by the Administration. Why this group? When there is this much money involved you want to know who up top made this recommendation and why.

    About the Fewer Yee community engagement resolution, what is it? Are there any specific policy changes or is it policy rhetoric? What do you think about O’Connell canceling on-site compliance monitoring? SFUSD was due up this coming school year and dodged a bullet. This is not good for accountability. Will the District step in to provide the assurance the State has abandoned or take advantage of this lack of oversight?

  2. Thanks for posting this, Rachel! Sorry to urge you to be the naysayer so often, since I’m also raising objections to the A-G mandate. We need more flexibility and accommodation of different learning styles in our high schools, not more rigidity.