Thoughts from the Town Hall meeting

Tonight’s “Funding our Future” town hall meeting was in turn inspiring, frustrating, maddening and energizing. Overall, it was great to see so many people turn out on a weeknight — the large auditorium at Marina Middle School was completely filled, with an overflow crowd watching a TV feed in the school’s cafeteria. I got to the event 40 minutes early, but even then the parking was almost full. 

The organizers, dubbed the “Sherman Six,” started this whole effort in January after feeling angry about proposed budget cuts.  Then the event caught on like wildfire, causing the Sherman Six some sleepless nights wondering how they were going to accommodate a thousand adults and at least a hundred children in Child Watch.  But the event came off without a hitch, and appeared beautifully and extensively organized. My heartfelt thanks to the Sherman Six and all of the other parents and community members who pitched in to make this happen — I am hoping it will mark a turning point in our community’s engagement in the policy (and political) process — locally and at the state level.

So .  .  .  any solutions? Well, it depends on how you define “solution.” I think my takeaway from our state legislators (Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee, and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma) was that there are lots of ideas out there to reform California’s tax structure and governance system, but not a clear front-runner — nor anything that will happen in the next two years.  Even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I appreciated the bluntness of Senator Yee’s statement that no matter how upset we get,  “cuts are coming. They’re coming.”   I do think we have to resign ourselves to hunkering down and getting through this, learning how to be smarter and do without things we’d rather have or used to have at some point in the past.  Fairness will be a crucial part of this discussion, and there is clearly anger at perceived unfairness around the Superintendent’s proposed cuts.

As one UESF member said to me after the meeting, “we’re sitting on a tinderbox.” Teachers, paraprofessionals and other school staff are angry, and they want to be sure that cuts are not landing disproportionately on them. And while I do believe that the Superintendent and his cabinet are trying hard to be as fair and strategic as possible about the cuts, I acknowledge that people at the school sites need more convincing.

If you weren’t able to attend the event, SFGOV-TV did record it and will re-broadcast it sometime this week. I also imagine the program will be available in their Video on Demand area in the coming days. I’ll post a link when it’s up.

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3 responses to “Thoughts from the Town Hall meeting

  1. I wrote this after digesting the Town Hall meeting for the past four days. I hope this it is helpful.

    I offer a hearty “Thank You!” to the organizers of the February 25th Town Hall, and to the volunteers, panelists, and attendees. I found it very informative.

    From my discussions with friends and family about the school budget crisis, I have two anecdotes to share:

    1) When telling my soon-to-be-90 year old grandfather-in-law that class sizes may rise to 25 or even 30, he paused, then reflectively replied “I think I had 40 in mine.” (He is the son of a barber and became a surgeon.)

    2) When telling my mom that the state spends $5000 per pupil, she said “Wow! That’s a lot!” She then proceeded to tell me that when she was PTA president, dues were a couple dollars. (This would have been in the 70’s and 80’s.)

    From these anecdotes, I gathered that there is indeed a challenge conveying the magnitude of the budget crisis to the general public; perhaps even to myself.

    I like numbers and I want to better understand the budget and our position, so I delved into SFUSD website and other handouts I had accumulated. I found some answers, but lots of questions. Perhaps a kind reader will know the answers or point me in their direction.

    I thought it would be instructive to calculate the per-pupil spending in SFUSD, which I will call our “effective tuition”. I then want to compare this “effective tuition” to the tuitions charged by Private and Parochial schools in San Francisco. Is my Mom correct? Is our effective tuition a lot (relative to other schools)? I’d also like to break the tuition into individual contributions from Federal, State, and Local. I understand I am being simplistic and am making big assumptions (all K-12 students are treated the same in spending), but I thought it would be informative.

    For later comparison, here are some tuitions that I collected (for 09-10):
    Hamlin $23,475
    Burke’s $23,400
    Presidio Hill $21,000
    St. Vincent de Paul
    active parishioner $ 7,700
    inactive $11,000
    St. Anne’s
    active parishioner $ 5,400
    inactive $ 6,800

    Much of the data comes from “Presentation at the School Community Summit 2/20/2010” found at SFUSD.edu:
    Presentation at the School Community Summit 2/20/2010

    First question right off: The General Fund is divided into Restricted and Unrestricted parts; why is only the unrestricted part used when citing per-pupil spending? Should it not be included for comparison with Private and Parochial tuitions?

    To get the number of pupils (also known as Average Daily Attendance, ADA):
    per-ADA Revenue Limit After Deficit $4,977 from p. 6
    Revenue Limit After Deficit $242,475,000 from p. 8
    Divide to get number of pupils is 48,719.

    Now I can calculate the Total Revenue per-pupil:
    $367,009,000 / 48,719 = $7,533

    Therefore, in San Francisco, we have $7,533 per pupil to spend (the individual contributions can be calculated using the table on page 8). Unfortunately, we are forecasted to spend $8,807 per pupil. Hence, we have a budget crisis. (as note, this does not include the Restricted Funds)

    Now I feel better prepared to comment on the budget. The $4,977 value always seemed grossly small to me. Our effective tuition is $7,533 and compares favorably with the Parochial schools, but is still well below the national average, which is closer to $10,000. The Privates are indeed extremely expensive, at three times the cost.

    One contribution that I did not include is from fundraising at the school. I understand that some schools raise hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. This enlightened me to the revelation that we really have a Public-Private hybrid: there is a public base funding and then private bonus funding, good for the enrichment programs. This is especially unfortunate for the poorer schools like mine. At Frank McCoppin, it is difficult to raise $10,000 among the 250 students. Since all our fates were determined by a lottery, some were lucky and won “rich” schools, and some did not. I understand that some districts share fundraising district wide (Palo Alto I believe) and perhaps hist could be explored here.

    So is my Mom correct? Are we spending a lot on education? I think not in comparison to the Parochial schools, where they also have other sources of funding. And certainly not by national standards.

    This exercise helped me and I hope it helped you too. Please inform me of any errors or misunderstandings I made and of any comments you have.

    Best wishes,
    Dan Durkin

  2. actually Rachel, there are several things that could go into effect within the next two years that will affect the education budget, as well as other social services in the state.

    If the Lakoff proposal is on the ballot, which is likely, and it passes, it will change starting in 2011 that we pass budget and revenue legislative decisions by a majority. That would change things from the status quo where a minority of legislators forces cuts to education and others to balance the budget instead of exploring other options. If there is no need for those minority legislative votes to pass the budget, those concessions do not need to be made and we have fundamentally changed how we fund education.

    We are currently talking about cuts to the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget, if that passes we are talking about a new budget structure for 2011-2012 (a year out).

    The split tax roll (exempting corporations from property tax reassessment) is also likely within two years.

    Just want people to understand there is much that can change in the next year that will have quick effect on education financing. Another thought is to have reps elected who stand up for social services, but that is for other communities to do as we already have reps like that from SF.

  3. Marnie Dunsmore

    While I commend the initiative to stop defunding of our schools, I find it troubling that the primary initiative proposed is another parcel tax.

    A parcel tax will not result in sufficient funding to turn back the short fall in dollars that our schools are facing. It is likely to amount to barely a blip at some of our poorer schools.

    As well, unlike a fair revision to prop 13, a parcel tax will not result in a proportional tax.