Today’s Chronicle carries a provocatively-titled article about a resolution we’ll consider tomorrow night — calling the program under consideration a “costly gay support program.” I have lots of respect for Jill Tucker’s reporting but I think today’s article blew things a wee bit out of proportion.
The most important piece missing from today’s article was an amendment added by the Board’s budget committee on January 18 (I blogged about that meeting but was so blown away by the news that the district’s budget gap had increased to $113 million I didn’t even go into our longish discussion about the LGBTQ resolution). I’ll get to the amendment, but first a bit of background about the resolution that is the subject of today’s article.
Authored by Commissioner Fewer, the resolution’s full title (take a deep breath): “In Support that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Strengthen the Anti-Discrimination Program in Schools in Order to Effect a Healthier Learning Environment for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students.” It’s three pages long, so I’ll summarize by saying it would commit the district to funding a 1.0 position, curriculum materials and a new interdisciplinary class on LGBTQ history and literature. Much of this we are already doing, but with outside funding that is uncertain from year to year. San Francisco has a long, proud history of being a leader on LGBTQ issues, and yet at the budget committee we were presented with some pretty staggering statistics on mental and physical health issues our 3,000 or so LGBTQ students are experiencing in our own district. There’s always more we should be doing. Still, the cost of the resolution as presented to the budget committee was already over $180,000.
So, after a lengthy discussion, the budget committee (Yee, Wynns and Norton, with Fewer as an invited but non-voting guest) amended the resolution to add the following provision:
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED: That the components of this resolution that have budget implications will be re-evaluated including the results of outside fundraising as part of the budget development process. Staff will present multiple recommendations for full and partial funding of the Program as a budget priority for the Board of Education for 2010-11, including at minimum a .5 staff person, website, and curriculum.
What this amendment means is that the “minimum” level of funding for this program will be a half-time staff person, maintenance of a web site we launched last year, and curriculum to supplement our existing health education curriculum to encourage LGBTQ youth and their peers to have a positive view of LGBTQ people. The cost of all that comes to $60,000 annually. Additional components in the resolution will be subject to further review by the Board as part of the work to develop a 2010-11 budget, and staff will present proposals for partially and fully-funding the program during the budget development process. They will also continue to pursue outside (grant) funding for this program.
I have received a number of calls and emails today about this proposal*, prompted by the Chronicle story, and while I think the reaction is a bit overblown, I understand how crazy it sounds to create a new program in the midst of a massive budget crisis. But: what we are talking about is essentially a $60,000 program (the cost of one teaching position, without benefits) that will support one of our community’s core values — not to mention perhaps 3,000 students in our school district. For example, there is a much higher rate of absenteeism, substance abuse and other risky behaviors among LGBT students in San Francisco Unified — so if the additional support provided by this program were to increase our average daily attendance by just a few days, it would pay for itself. In short — I think I am comfortable with the minimum level of funding as spelled out in the amended resolution, but will reserve judgement about the rest of the policy components until we have more visibility about the cuts we’ll need to make to balance next year’s budget.
*Even my mother emailed me! For the record, she thought it was a very tough decision to make, and wondered how I was going to vote.