The budget is adopted, with a whimper

Tonight the Board unanimously adopted the Superintendent’s proposed budget for 2010-11. It wasn’t exactly a happy moment — how can you be happy at such a budget, which leaves virtually no program in the district unscathed? But I do think we conducted a good process, with lots of community input and engagement. Amazingly, there was only one member of the public who came to the meeting to speak to us on the proposed cuts — I would say we’re starting to learn how to do this better (now we have to do an information (re)design for the budget document itself — next year).

The cuts that hurt the most are:

  • Eliminating virtually all summer school, except for special education students and seniors who are in danger of not being able to graduate (a $4.6 million cut approved back in January);
  • Eliminating all high school transportation (a $1.7 million cut);
  • Shortening the school year by four days (a savings of $9.2 million).

There were scores of other cuts — reductions in art and music programs, nurses, counselors and staff professional development among them — but we squeaked through this year, bloody but still alive.

The Board also unanimously passed a recommendation from the Superintendent to prohibit the expenditure of any District funds on the travel and/or attendance of SFUSD staff or Commissioners to any and all conferences and meetings in Arizona, as a response to two recent laws passed there. The first (SB 1070) has sparked nationwide protests because it authorizes law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status when they suspect that a person might be in the United States illegally. The second, House  Bill 2281, prohibits public schools from teaching Ethnic Studies. In addition, the Arizona Department of Education has (incredibly) ordered its school districts to remove and/or prohibit teachers with accents from teaching English classes.

My tweet announcing this action of the Board sparked quite a debate among my Facebook friends, so I’m pointing everyone here so that I can say first that I am proud of the Superintendent and the General Counsel for bringing us this resolution, for reasons that are deeply felt and strongly rooted in our values as a school district. Second, I was proud to support it. The ignorant and discriminatory actions being taken by Arizonans who should know better affect all of us as Americans, and it’s important to stand up and be counted as an opponent to these unjust laws.  The Superintendent’s resolution quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s caution that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” but I’m also reminded of  “First they came . . .” , a famous poem by German theologian Martin Niemöller, on the need to stand up to tyranny. Finally, it’s not “parochial” to prohibit our district’s money from being spent in a state that has proclaimed values so opposed to our own. If that means others will retaliate because Californians passed Prop. 8, so be it — I’d love for such a boycott to change some minds in other parts of the state and reverse our own unjust gay marriage ban.

We heard a report from a staff committee that is studying moving the high school start time to later in the morning. Currently, most of our high schools start at 8 a.m., with a few offering a “zero period” starting at 7:30 a.m. National research shows that most teens don’t get enough sleep, and this lack of sleep affects their academic performance and behavior. In addition, a representative from the SFPD was on hand to discuss the department’s data that incidents spike in the hours between 3 and 5 p.m., indicating that unsupervised teens might be at least part of that problem. (Chief Gascon, it appears, would like to see SFUSD supervise high school students a bit later into the afternoon).  But for every pro identified by the committee, there is also a con — higher transportation costs, obstacles for teens who play sports or work after school, as well as implications for start times throughout our school system. So while the Board remains receptive to the idea of starting high schools later, all of us urged a slow, deliberative process with lots of opportunities to engage parents, staff and others in the discussion.  In other words, this change is under consideration, but won’t happen anytime soon.

Among other items approved tonight:

  • The district’s request for almost $50 million in “SIG” (School Improvement Grants) funds from the Federal government as part of our plan to improve achievement at our 10 persistently underperforming schools.  The request doesn’t mean we’ll actually GET the $50 million, but at least we’re giving it the old college try.
  • A contract for $45,000 for an Inclusive Practices Specialist for our Child Development Program. This effort is LONG overdue and I believe it will save us many more thousands in the long run — the lack of inclusive programs in our Pre-K offerings is a major weakness currently.

Finally, a large group from Horace Mann Academic Middle School came to speak during general public comment to protest the news that they will be sharing their campus with Metro Arts and Tech charter high school operated by Envision Schools. There’s a back story here that has yet to fully emerge, but it appears that the Horace Mann community was first told they would not have to share space; this week an article in Mission Local indicated that the co-location was already a done deal. The staff and families of Horace Mann are justifiably angry at being left out of the loop — in one particularly dramatic moment a father pointed his finger at the Superintendent and recalled his time 17 years ago as a student at Horace Mann when Mr. Garcia was the principal. Anyway, Mr. Garcia handled the criticism without emotion and simply said that he had not been aware of the staff action that had set in motion the plan to co-locate the schools. But because the item was not on tonight’s agenda, legal counsel suggested the Board take it up at another meeting that could be properly noticed. That meeting will now occur Monday evening, June 28, at 5:45 p.m. in the Board room.

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