Tonight’s meeting was the first meeting in June, which means the Board is now embarking on one of the most important things we do: approving the district’s budget.
In some ways, getting the big fat budget book (caution, big PDF) is an anti-climax; we’ve been hearing for months that the budget is bad, really bad, but when the book finally drops, there aren’t lots of angry people at the meetings because it’s already summer. School sites got their preliminary 2012-13 budgets in February, and so parents, teachers and principals have already made the tough decisions — layoff notices have been issued and programs have been cut.** Really, the most revealing thing about the budget that was released tonight is what cuts central office will sustain, but that is very hard to figure out with just the 2012-13 budget book — you need the book for the budget approved for 2011-12 (caution, another big PDF. If you are a glutton for punishment, adopted SFUSD budgets going back to 2009-10 are downloadable here). Tonight, for this post, I’m at a disadvantage, since I left my 2011-12 budget book in the Board office and only have my 2012-13 book.
SFUSD is now projecting a beginning unrestricted general fund (UGF) balance of $46.1 million in 2012-13 — comprising about $16.1 million in 2011-12 required reserves (not spendable in any circumstance other than state takeover) and about $30 million in cash. The district projects it will take in $331.1 million in revenues to the UGF, and spend about $361.5 million (assuming forced closure days and other concessions from teachers, paraprofessionals and other UESF-represented employees — it’s not clear which concessions are included in the budget figures and which are not). After the 2012-13 required reserve of $15.5 million is accounted for, the district is left with a scant ending balance of $230,000 going in to 2013-14.
In addition to maintaining the required (and unspendable under any imaginable circumstance other than state takeover) reserve funds, school districts in California must also file a budget that shows positive cash flow over three years. If a district cannot show that it will meet its obligations for three years in the future, its financial status is certified as “qualified” or “negative.” Currently in California, almost 20 percent of all districts are in qualified or negative certification — an all time high. And that’s before the 2012-13 revenue projections–including the “nuclear winter” scenario that results if Governor Brown’s tax measures or the Munger initiative don’t pass in November –are completely figured in. My friends on the Oakland and West Contra Costa Boards have impressed upon me numerous times that state takeover — even though it might seem tempting to let someone else make the tough decisions — is the worst thing a community can experience. My objective, in evaluating the Superintendent’s budget proposal, will be to make sure we do not risk San Francisco’s ability to determine for itself how best to meet an uncertain future for school funding.
What comes next
The Board will discuss the 2012-13 budget at a Special Meeting on June 19 (the meeting will start sometime around 6:30 p.m. — I don’t have a precise time because there is a budget committee meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. that evening, and as soon as the committee meeting ends, the Special Meeting begins — there’s a long, technical story behind this). There will also be community meetings for the public to hear more about the budget:
- June 18, 6-7 p.m., Thurgood Marshall Academic HS, 45 Conkling Street, SF 94124;
- June 21, 6-7 p.m., Everett MS, 450 Church St, SF 94114
The district’s budget team has also set aside “office hours,” on June 18 from 2-5 p.m. Community members or small groups can request an appointment by sending an email to budget “at” sfusd.edu.
The Board will vote on the 2012-13 budget at the June 26 Board meeting — also the meeting where our new Superintendent, Richard Carranza, will be sworn in by departing Superintendent Carlos Garcia.
**Layoff notices to most elementary school teachers were rescinded on the last week of school, in a calculated risk and show of goodwill to UESF –which is locked in bitter contract renegotiations with the district.
Other items on tonight’s agenda:
- Scholarships! UESF, United Administrators of SF, The Association of Chinese Teachers (TACT), Alliance of Black School Educators and other groups announced their scholarship winners this evening. It’s always a day-brightener to see deserving students who are heading off to college with a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of tuition money as a reward for exemplary work in SFUSD high schools. One of those honored was Joyce Zhang, a 2012 graduate of Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and one of this year’s student delegates to the Board — Ms. Zhang received the prestigious Incentive Award scholarship to U.C. Berkeley!
- Non-discrimination policy: To align district policy with a new non-discrimination law (AB 9) at the state level, the Superintendent has proposed a revision to the district’s existing non-discrimination policy. The proposal was already vetted in the Rules, Policy and Legislation committee and forwarded with a positive recommendation. It will return for a final vote on June 26.
- Real estate: Also on tonight’s agenda was a renewal of the district’s $65,000 annual contract with CBRE, a real estate brokerage that provides professional expertise and advice on the district’s real estate transactions. Board members had a brief discussion on whether we should bring this function back in house (where it resided until 2009-10). The contract will be paid with the proceeds of the sale of 700 Font Street to SF State, but there are other questions about whether the district is realizing enough income from its properties — 1950 Mission chief among them. Ultimately, the CBRE contract was approved by a majority of the Board (with Commissioner Fewer voting no) but with the direction to consider other alternatives for next year.