Category Archives: budget

Recap: the rhetoric ratchets up

If you haven’t noticed rising tensions between the district and its main union, United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), you haven’t been paying attention.  The school district and UESF are again in contract negotiations, as the two-year agreement crafted in June 2010 expires June 30, 2012. In June 2010, the district was facing a $113 million deficit over two years (201o-11 and 2011-12), and UESF members and other employees gave furlough (unpaid) days and other concessions to close that gap.

Those concessions expire on June 30, but the budget crisis is not over, based on an analysis by Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh at tonight’s meeting. California school districts are required to submit board-approved three-year budgets by June 30 of each year, and the SFUSD figures–based on the passage of tax measures on this November’s ballot–appear in the chart below (note that the figures only represent the Unrestricted General Fund — the largest and least restricted pot of money the district spends). There are additional monies — facilities bond funds, special education funding from the state and Federal government, student nutrition reimbursement and other revenues– that are not included here. Many of these programs (special education and student nutrition are major examples) also require a contribution from the Unrestricted General Fund to continue a minimum level of service. So the figures below do not include revenues from restricted programs but do include any contributions of unrestricted funds that are required to keep programs funded by restricted funds completely solvent.

You might also have heard of two state revenue initiatives just concluding the signature gathering phase to qualify for the ballot — the Governor has one, called the “Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act,” and the California PTA and civil rights attorney Molly Munger have another, called “Our Children Our Future.” Each claim to raise money for education, but it is beyond the scope of this post to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each. Anyway, districts are being encouraged to budget as if the Governor’s initiative passes; to be prudent most are preparing two budgets: “scenario A (taxes pass)” or “scenario B (taxes fail).” Since Governor Brown’s initative trumps Our Children Our Future if both pass, SFUSD and other districts are using pass/fail outcomes for the Governor’s initiative as the best/worst case scenarios.


What the numbers mean:   The school district began the current year with $55.8 million in the bank, which includes $16.6 million in “designated reserves.” These are funds that the state will not let districts spend, under any circumstances, because these funds are expected to be available to state regulators if and when an insolvent district is taken over. In plain language, school boards and district administrators do not have the authority to spend designated reserves. In SFUSD’s case, that leaves $18.7 million in cash that can be applied to the 2012-13 beginning balance.

2012-13: If you add the unspendable reserve of $16.6 million to the available $18.7 million in cash left over from 2011-12, you get a beginning balance of $35.3 million. Current spending projections, which include the expiration of the UESF contract concessions from 2010-11 and 2011-12, add up to $372.5 million. Expected state and Federal revenues add up to $318.6 million. After the beginning surplus of $35.3 million is added in and the required unspendable reserve is subtracted, the district is looking at a deficit of $35.5 million at the end of 2012-13.

2013-14 and beyond: Without any cuts (on top of the cuts we have made in previous years), and/or concessions (remember that earlier contract concessions like furlough days expire on June 30,2012), the negative ending balance in 2012-13 and subsequent years (indicated in red in the table above) is is a problem.  The state will take districts over if they cannot demonstrate a positive ending balance at the end of the next fiscal year; they put you on a watch list and/or begin to intervene if you cannot demonstrate a positive ending balance for the following fiscal year or the year after that.


What the numbers mean:  By comparing the A/B scenarios, you can easily tell that revenues take a hit in 2012-13 and 2013-14 if the taxes don’t pass, which has a corresponding effect on the ending balances for each fiscal year. Still, it’s also apparent from Scenario A that even with new revenues, education funding in California is not at all out of the woods.

How things stand now:  There is a great deal of uncertainty around the district’s budget, not just because of the unknown outcome of the tax proposals (both of which may appear on the November 2012 ballot).  In addition, district leadership and UESF are far apart in their understanding of the district’s fiscal situation, and of what is affordable and what is not. Last week, district negotiators declared that they had reached an impasse with UESF, but union negotiators disagreed with that position and believe there has not been sufficient discussion of their proposals.  The district has appealed to the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to determine whether there is any use in the sides continuing to talk or whether a mediator should be appointed. (It would take hours for me to describe what each side has proposed, so if you are really interested you can find descriptions of district proposals here and descriptions of UESF proposals here).

The bottom line: As a Board Member,  I have to decide whether the projections/scenarios above are valid, and whether the funding priorities that will be proposed in the Superintendent’s 2012-13 budget (to be introduced for first reading in early June) are fiscally responsible and in line with the Board’s policy priorities. On Thursday, UESF is holding the first of two votes required to authorize an eventual strike, and its members must decide much the same things: are the district’s publicly disseminated budget scenarios valid? Are the district’s proposals fiscally responsible and aligned with the district’s academic and policy goals? How do the UESF proposals align with the district’s academic policy goals, and are they equally as fiscally responsible as the district’s proposals?

Determining the answers to these questions is not easy, especially since the picture at the state level is still so unclear. Money that is expected today may fail to materialize if the taxes don’t pass in November.  In declaring impasse, the district has asked for an independent mediator to evaluate the arguments on both sides, and help craft a proposed settlement that (in his or her judgment) addresses both sides.

So, layoffs . . .  Until there is an agreement, the district must take steps to be sure its three-year budget is balanced ahead of the June 30 deadline. In February, the Board voted to issue 333 preliminary layoff notices to certificated employees (administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, etc.) — those preliminary notices must be issued by March 15.  In its resolution to issue those notices, the Board agreed to skip teachers in 14 Superintendent’s Zone schools, a controversial decision that required review by an Administrative Law Judge.

Yesterday, the judge issued her decision and ruled that the district must conduct layoffs according to seniority, instead of skipping teachers at some schools altogether. Though many Board members believe our original action would have had benefits to the Superintendent’s Zone schools — many of which are historically low-performing–after the judge’s decision we unanimously rejected the Superintendent’s proposal to proceed with the skip and instead adopted (6-1) a substitute resolution that follows seniority to issue permanent layoff notices to 210 teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, counselors, etc. and eight administrators.  As I said in my remarks before voting tonight, the board tried to do something noble by attempting to keep staffs at the Superintendent’s Zone schools intact — now we will just have to find other ways to support these schools and reduce their high rates of staff turnover.

Other items

  • A petition to open a new KIPP charter high school was introduced and sent to the Curriculum and Budget committees. It will return to the full Board for a vote probably on June 14.
  • A technical fix to the Board’s policy on required qualifications for new JROTC instructors (requiring them to enroll in a P.E. credential program soon after being hired rather than the original language, which stated they must already be enrolled in a P.E. credential program) will be heard in the Personnel and Budget committees and return to the Board sometime in June.
  • Parents from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy came to protest the  hiring process for their interim principal.
  • A member of the public became angry when he saw President Yee and I chuckling during the layoff discussion — I can understand why it would seem insensitive to be joking during that discussion, and the timing was bad. Still, what we were laughing about was unrelated to the layoff matter being discussed — it was rueful acknowledgement that we had utterly bumbled parliamentary procedure in introducing an “amendment for substitution”  as a “substitute motion” in place of the Superintendent’s original motion, and then calling for a second at the wrong time. Our mistakes required not one but two gentle corrections by Ms. Evelyn Wilson, our long-suffering Parliamentarian.
  • Read “Schools Under Stress,” a report issued today by the education think tank Edsource.  It’s a very thorough discussion of all the budget woes facing California schools.

Feb 28 meeting recap: layoffs will skip Superintendent’s Zone schools

Despite some tears and a few tense exchanges between Board members and union leadership, the Board tonight voted 5-1 (Fewer, Mendoza, Norton, Wynns and Yee in favor, Maufas opposed, Murase absent) to:

  • Issue preliminary layoff notices to 123 administrators and 210 instructional staff (teachers, nurses, counselors, etc), as well as 35 early education employees and 106 paraprofessionals (91 others will see their hours potentially reduced);
  • Conduct layoffs according to seniority but skip certain high-need credential areas (math, science, bilingual or special education) and all teachers working in the 14 Superintendent’s Zone schools (they are: Bryant ES, Bret Harte ES, Cesar Chavez ES, Carver ES, Drew ES, Flynn ES, John Muir ES, Malcolm X ES, Paul Revere K-8, Horace Mann/Buena Vista K-8, Everett MS, Mission HS, Thurgood Marshall HS, and John O’Connell HS).
  • The HR department presentation with data/logistics is here.

No one likes layoffs, and authorizing the issuance of layoff notices is the toughest vote the Board takes each year. The process is flawed in many ways — the state doesn’t pass a budget until June (or often later) and yet state law requires districts to notify employees in March if they might not have a job in August.  Uncertainty is bad for individual employees, for the administrators who don’t know who will staff their classrooms in the coming year, and for students who don’t know if their teachers will be there for them when they come back after the summer. 

This year, the annual layoff discussion came with the added twist of skipping the Superintendent’s Zone (SZ) schools. The Superintendent created the SZ in the 2010-11 school year, in an attempt to better focus resources on the district’s lowest performing schools and most underserved neighborhoods. The correlation isn’t perfect — there are a number of low-performing, high-need schools (El Dorado ES and Cleveland ES come to mind) that aren’t in the SZ, and some of the SZ schools are not low-performing (Malcolm X). However, the general idea behind the SZ is that schools (and students) in the Bayview and Mission neighborhood need extra attention and resources.

There has been confusion over the SZ, partly relating to the fact that our SIG schools — designated by the state and Federal government as some of the state’s lowest-performing schools deserving of highly-restricted but generous restructuring grants — are a subset of SZ schools. So, SIG schools get money that other SZ schools don’t get, and that money is governed by a separate (and strict) set of rules. In addition,  after the passage of Prop. A in 2008,  the Superintendent is allowed to unilaterally designate 25 schools “hard-to-staff” and offer teachers in those schools additional salary for teaching there.  All SZ schools are hard-to-staff, but not all hard-to-staff schools are SZ. Get it?

Still, the bottom line for the Superintendent in making the proposal to skip the SZ schools from layoffs was that we have invested millions of dollars in additional salary, professional development, and other resources in the chief asset of the SZ schools: their people. To simply drop them into a seniority-based layoff, he argued, would represent a waste of that investment.

The union leadership had its deeply-felt arguments as well: the annual layoff dance is akin to fighting over crumbs, when the real fight is better waged in Sacramento; and seniority is a bedrock issue for teacher unity — dividing the district’s teacher corps across schools is a strategy that demoralizes staff across the district and doesn’t address the real problem, which is that schools improve when we invest resources in them. Besides, there are many other struggling schools (the aforementioned El Dorado and Cleveland being excellent examples) which will now suffer a greater impact from layoffs because their equally-junior colleagues down the road will be skipped. To the teacher’s union, the Superintendent’s arguments were simply a divide and conquer strategy that represent a shot across the bow in yet another tough contract negotiation year.

Make no mistake, the decision to ask the Board to approve a wider authority for skips this year was provocative — the district created the SZ in 2010-11 but did not at that time articulate a plan to use it to make a case for “special skills and competencies” (the legal standard required under CA law to skip a teacher in a seniority-based layoff).  In February 2011, when we were asked to approve the layoff criteria for the current school year, SZ schools were not established as a skip criteria. There has never been a clearly-published criteria for what makes a school an SZ school, nor one for determining when a school has improved to the point that it is no longer eligible for the SZ.  Putting all of this together, tonight’s vote was a very bitter pill for the union to swallow, and the leadership let us know that they did not appreciate it.

So . . . my reasons? I had a hard time with this and spent a lot of time today trying to find a way to remain true to my commitment to support teachers in all of our schools, as well as my commitments to the students in our lowest-performing schools and poorest neighborhoods. I thought hard about a potential compromise — skipping just the nine SIG schools rather than all 14 SZ schools, but realized that such a move would create a disproportionate impact on four Bayview schools in the SZ — Charles Drew, Malcolm X, Bret Harte, and Thurgood Marshall. In the end, I found I accepted the need for layoffs should our budget picture become the worst case scenario, and decided to go with the lesser of two evils: a layoff strategy that preserves our investments in 14 of the district’s most struggling schools, as opposed to a layoff strategy that could, when all is said and done, put those investments at risk. Hopefully, if the district accesses the City’s Rainy Day Fund and reaches agreements with our unions that put additional money on the table, few or no layoffs will be necessary; but we won’t know that for a few more months.

Finally, I want to commend my colleagues for their respectful, thoughtful and heartfelt discussion on this very difficult issue tonight. Commissioner Fewer deserves special mention for going first and taking the most heat for her passionate and forthright stance. Her actions tonight took great courage, and made it a little easier for everyone else to stand with her.

But wait there’s more! Transportation policy update

We were all pretty much in a daze after taking the required four (count ’em, four!) votes on the various aspects of the layoffs, so it came as a surprise to me that a lengthy update on General Education transportation policy had also been scheduled for tonight’s meeting — somehow I missed it in the agenda!

But this was an important update as well — many more schools will see transportation cuts next year according to the schedule first announced in December 2010.  The following elementary schools are expected to lose transportation entirely in the 2012-13 school year, subject to final approval in mid-March: Alamo, Argonne, Buena Vista, Cleveland, El Dorado, Glen Park, Hillcrest, Lafayette, McKinley, New Traditions, Ortega, Parks, Redding, Sheridan, Starr King, Stevenson, Taylor, Tenderloin, Ulloa, Vis Valley.

A number of other schools will gain routes, in order to maintain or expand access to specific citywide programs (language immersion, K-8) from CTIP-1 neighborhoods.

For those seeking more information about ongoing transportation cuts/realignment, here is the Powerpoint presented to the Board this evening.

Meeting recap: January 24, 2012

On tonight’s agenda:

  • A resolution commemorating the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Unified School District’s PTA (the organization’s celebration of that anniversary will be held February 10 at Patio Espanol — more details here – PDF);
  • Highlights of the school district’s (and its partners’) celebration of Black History month this February  — events include the African American Read In,  the African American Honor Roll celebration honoring 1,200 African-American SFUSD students with a GPA of 3.0 or better (February 29 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 6 p.m. $10 donation requested), as well as the annual oratory contest sponsored by the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators (Feb. 25 at Thurgood Marshall High School, 8 a.m. to 12 noon);
  • “Sunshining” of proposals and counter-proposals for contract negotiations with United Administrators of San Francisco and United Educators of San Francisco;
  • Approval of the annual spending plan for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) — Commissioners reviewed the plan at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, and heard testimony from members of the PEEF Comunity Advisory Committee suggesting that three activities (teacher recruitment, custodial services for early education centers and funding for the district’s new formative assessments) should be funded with other monies (district staff wrote a response to that report here). For more information and lots more documents, visit the  PEEF web site, which asks for a password but seems to let you in if you just click cancel. In the end, the Board appreciated the input but supported the original spending plan suggested by staff.;
  • Review and approval of the district’s annual independent financial audit — there were two minor findings related to attendance accounting in the district’s early education and afterschool programs, but the independent auditor expressed confidence that the findings were being addressed, and commended staff for a growing string of clean audit reports;
  • An overview of the Governor’s budget proposal released earlier this month – probably the only good thing I can say about this proposal is that it is very much not a done deal. For reasons I can’t quite explain, even the “rosy” scenario — where the Governor’s proposed tax increases passes — results in significant additional cuts;
  • Public comment from parents and community members at Alice Fong Yu and Paul Revere,  and introduction by UESF leadership of the union’s bargaining team for upcoming negotiations. A commenter last week asked me why I haven’t devoted much time in the blog to the competing statements of Paul Revere parents, and the reason is:  I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to muse publicly on personnel issues. This whole episode has been ugly and disruptive for everyone involved and I don’t see how it helps for me to “report” allegations from one side or another.  I did feel momentarily shamed by the comment from one Revere parent who noted the district’s swift response to an outcry from Alice Fong Yu parents when they protested changes to their immersion program (after a meeting with the Curriculum Committee and district leadership last week, a deal for a pilot program was struck that will increase the population of English Learners at the school but maintain its essentially “one-way” immersion model — and tonight the community came to thank us for our swift reaction).  Why weren’t we able to resolve the Paul Revere situation in as swift a manner? the Revere parent asked.  The answer is complex — personnel issues usually can’t be resolved in one meeting and certainly not in public; and there is not the same unified perspective in the Paul Revere community  — teachers and parents have  been vocal about their divided opinions on which direction the school should go. Still, he’s right that struggling schools can’t easily summon 100 parents in matching shirts to attend a Board meeting, but their concerns are just as pressing.

(Bad) news from the budget committee

Tonight the Budget and Business Services Committee met, and among other items, we got a blast of bad news in the form of the state budget update. It went like this:  Last week, the state Controller John Chiang announced that California’s tax receipts for the first month of the new fiscal year were over 10 percent– or more than $500 million– lower than expected. That’s bad, because the budget signed by Governor Brown in late June contained $4 billion in what the state euphemistically called “speculative” revenues.

Most of us who exist on a budget instinctively grasp that speculative revenues are not the same as, say, a regular paycheck. And in its wisdom, the state of California acknowledged this law of nature in its 2011-12 budget, inserting “triggers” for various levels of mid-year budget cuts if those hoped-for revenues didn’t actually materialize. (More about the triggers in this Sacramento Bee article from June).

Things start to get really bad for Californians (as if they aren’t bad already) if the state’s revenues as of November of this year are more than $1 billion behind projections; schools take a big hit if revenues are $2 billion or more behind projections.  Mid-year cuts are pretty much impossible for SFUSD due to our labor contracts, and the district will have enough cash on hand to pay our bills through next June. After that, though — things could get very difficult.

Commissioners stressed the need to start planning NOW for possible disaster, and asked staff to consider proposing another two-year budget like the one we developed for 2010-11 and 20011-12. We’ll all have to watch the state’s monthly tax receipts very carefully in order to have a better idea of what’s coming. Stay tuned.

The committee also heard:

  • A renewal petition for Metro Arts & Technology Charter High School, now quartered at the old Gloria R. Davis Middle School site in the Bayview district. The committee asked for some additional budget information to be presented to the full board, and passed the petition on with no recommendation;
  • A report from the Information Technology department with more detail about the district’s budget for the new Student Information System (dubbed the Student Data Redesign project) approved by the Board last year. Over the next five years, the district will spend $8.6 million to completely upgrade our student information systems and enhance schools’ ability to capture and track data on student achievement, demographics and other variables in order to better target our programs to student needs (the budget includes training for staff, new technology for school sites, and temporary positions needed to help us implement the new system). It’s a big effort, but the sorry state of district technology and data management makes such an investment imperative.

Board unanimously approves revised feeder plan

Tonight the Board unanimously approved the feeder plan recommended by the Superintendent.  Up until a day ago I was expecting a dissenting vote or two, but I think in the end the staff’s decision to modify the proposal to be a “tiebreaker” system until 2016-17 was the change that convinced Commissioner Wynns (notably the strongest doubter in her public comments previous to tonight’s vote) to support the plan.

I know that in the end it was the decision to refrain from an initial assignment and instead use a tiebreaker process that helped to convince  me. I heard a lot of the doubts about equity and access from parents who would receive preference into less-chosen schools; the PAC and PPS’s original recommendation to dump the feeder plan altogether was very compelling.  But in considering all of the factors, the unknowns and the overarching policy objectives, I finally came down on the side of the feeders.  Specifically:

  • The new elementary-to-MS feeder patterns will allow us to plan more rationally for MS improvements. That’s why the MS principals unanimously supported the plan, because they knew they would have more stable and robust enrollments at their schools AND because they knew the plan would help them build academic and social support bridges between their schools and the elementary schools that would provide their target enrollments.
  • Choice in school assignment isn’t, by itself, a school improvement strategy.  Our experience with a full choice-based assignment system has had some unintended consequences: schools that aren’t chosen have fewer resources and fewer ways to attract those resources, creating a vicious cycle; and choice creates a strong backlash among those who feel entitled to a nearby school but do not get it because it is competitive citywide.  And even though our previous choice system did allow some families to “discover” previously overlooked schools, it’s clear that over time it also supported starker segregation patterns and disadvantaged vulnerable school communities.  In other words, choice is great if you get one of your choices; not so much if you don’t. And since we are forecasting a coming bulge in middle school enrollment, finding a way to offer everyone a more equitable experience — and still allow people at least some ability to choose where their child will attend school–is becoming more urgent.
  • The “tiebreaker” phasing-in of the feeder plan allows some time for families to kick the tires of proposed schools before they are involuntarily “fed” into them through an initial assignment offer.  I believe schools like Denman, Martin Luther King and Visitacion Valley MS will benefit from families who are willing to take a second or third look if their first choices don’t pan out. One of the benefits we’ve seen with choice over the years is the incredible effect of critical mass — once parents see that families they regard as peers are happy at a particular school, they are much more willing to consider it as an option for their own children.

There was some discussion at last night’s Student Assignment committee and again at tonight’s meeting about whether to change the order of tiebreakers for middle school assignment while they are in effect (2012-13 through 2015-16). The PAC and PPS recommended that the Board move CTIP or some other “equity mechanism” above the feeder patterns as a tiebreaker, which in the end only Commissioner Wynns supported. I can’t speak for other Board members, but the reason I opposed giving CTIP higher priority in MS assignments is that I am not convinced yet that it does what we think it does;  I have concerns that it is simply advantaging a subset of families who happen to live in those zones but don’t otherwise fit the racial and socioeconomic profiles we are hoping to advantage.  I would like to see the effect of the strong CTIP preference on K applicant pools and school composition before I agree to “double-down” for MS enrollment. 

I do recognize that some people will be deeply upset and angered by the Board’s decision tonight. I don’t think the Superintendent and staff have done a good job explaining HOW they are going to improve some of our middle schools;  nor have they acknowledged the areas where we should be doing a better job. They actually haven’t even defined very well what a “quality” middle school is. I plan to continue bringing these and related topics to the Board’s Curriculum Committee to help guide the staff in developing an improvement plan for each of our MS.

Tonight the Board also heard about a little thing called the 2011-12 budget, which was introduced for first reading.  It was almost 10:30 p.m. by the time the budget item came up  (another item ate up more than an hour of the Board’s time before that) so there wasn’t really any discussion. The Board will hold an augmented Budget and Business Services Committee meeting on June 21 where the budget will be discussed in greater detail. 

What an “all cuts” budget looks like

Just home from six-plus hours of committee meetings, the first of which was the City-School District Select committee held at City Hall in the gorgeous Board chamber (they have way nicer digs than the Boardroom at 555 Franklin — not that I have any ideas! I like the school board. I do, however, covet the City’s microphone system, which allows you to add your name to a list for the chair if you wish to speak, rather than the system we use across the street, which is to hiss at the chair and repeatedly turn your microphone light on and off in order to get a word in edgewise. If the chair is mad at you h/she might pretend not to see you, which only causes louder hissing and more emphatic button pushing).

Anyway, SFUSD Budget Director Reeta Madhaven led the Supervisors (Avalos, Chu and Cohen) and Commissioners (Fewer, Maufas and Norton) in a presentation of our steadily worsening budget outlook. We’d heard the presentation earlier this month in a Committee of the Whole, but familiarity does not make the numbers more palatable. Due to the failure of the legislature to put a tax extension on the ballot, we are left with two alternatives: the Governor’s original doom and gloom scenario from January (which we were calling “Scenario B” but is now our best-case scenario), requiring cuts of $330 per student, or $25 million, for 2011-12, and deeper cuts for 2012-13;  OR an “all cuts” budget that could require cuts of $800 per student or more.  SFUSD staff has not yet completely costed out an “all cuts” budget, preferring to wait another week or two until the Governor releases his May budget revision (the “May revise”).  But the California Budget Project (CBP) has published a district-by-district breakdown at what an all cuts budget might look like, using an estimate of $764 per student — for us, they say it adds up to an estimated $41 million cut.  Remember, we already cut $113 million from district spending in the two-year budget we passed last spring — that cut was supposed to cover 2011-12 as well as the current year. It’s kind of staggering to think about.

Bad news from Sacramento: June election is dead.

The June special election is dead, officials in Sacramento agree. They disagree on who was more unreasonable in their demands, and therefore who should be blamed for the failure to JUST LET THE VOTERS WEIGH IN on whether the state should raise taxes.

What does this mean for SFUSD? I haven’t received updated guidance from the Superintendent, but last month the Board was told that without voter-approved tax increases, we would be looking at a $330 per student, or $20 million, cut for 2011-12.

I’ll keep you posted on the options.

Update: Listen to the Governor on the decision to end the negotiations:

Here we go again . . .

Tonight the Board voted to issue layoff notices to 140 teachers and 108 paraprofessionals, and to eliminate 32 teaching positions in the Child Development Program. Last week, the Board voted in closed session to issue layoff notices to another 139 administrators.

All of this can make one feel numb — since I joined the Board of Education in early 2009, I have been asked to vote for large-scale layoffs each March.  In a way, it’s kind of a dance: the state requires us to notify certificated employees who may be laid off by March 15, a date when districts generally have no idea what their final revenues will be; in addition, in order to trigger our eligibility for the City’s Rainy Day Fund (which may contribute as much as $8 million to the school district this year), the district must be facing layoffs.  So SFUSD must take steps to plan for the worst case scenario in order to avoid the worst case scenario.

Still, this dance will affect lives and classrooms across the district and it’s important to remember why we are here, again, this year: California does not adequately fund its schools,  and so again we are faced with the choice of whether to cut off an arm here or a leg there. None of the choices are good and all of them hurt.

Some of the speakers before the Board tonight said we had a choice — in the form of Federal “Edujobs” stimulus funds or Rainy Day Funds — to avoid layoffs. However, it’s important to remember that  the $10 million we have banked from Edujobs and the $8 million we are expecting to get from the Rainy Day Fund are figured into the scenario already, and that scenario has lots of IFs:

  • IF the Legislature allows Californians to vote on the Governor’s proposal to extend sales taxes and other revenue measures in June, and IF those revenue measures pass by a simple majority of the voters,  the Edujobs and Rainy Day money will basically help us avoid further cuts this year, and restore all of the positions noticed under today’s layoff vote.
  • But IF the vote to place the revenue measures on the June ballot fails to gain the support of two-thirds of the Legislature, or IF the voters do not pass those measures by a simple majority, then the Edujobs and Rainy Day money is figured into helping us avoid even deeper cuts.

A better, long-term solution is to make this process more streamlined and more humane. It’s silly to make districts forecast their staffing budgets in early March, before the state’s budget process has really even ramped up; it’s also silly to make districts forecast those revenues three years out as part of the requirement to pass a final budget by June 30  (a requirement that forces districts to be more conservative in managing their future liabilities than they might otherwise be).  Finally, we need to make sure that students and classrooms are insulated from the budget/layoff dance as much as possible.

Recap: Budget clouds, K to College and tough questions on PEEF

Tonight was another one of those meetings where, judging from the items on the agenda, I blithely assumed I’d be home to watch the end of Glee. No such luck. However, the Board did engage in several important conversations, so I guess getting home to watch the 11’o clock news instead was worth it (I do mind that I missed the State of the Union, though).

Continue reading

What to watch in the week ahead

Update:  The Sacramento Bee has a list of Brown’s proposed cuts. The newspaper says Brown would provide the Prop. 98 minimum guarantee for K-12 school funding, as long as a package of tax increases succeeds on the June ballot. If the tax measures fail, Prop. 98 would be suspended.  Honestly, Prop. 98 is so complex I am not sure whether even the minimum guarantee is a good thing for schools.

Tomorrow, Gov. Brown will release his budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  If the signals from the administration are to be believed, this will be a “shock and awe” budget that will contain drastic cuts to everything from schools to social services.  Once Californians get a look at the depth of the cuts, the thinking in Sacramento goes, voters may be sufficiently softened up to consider tax increases.

The bad thing for school districts, however, is that we will have to prepare our 2011-12 budgets according to the proposal the Governor makes tomorrow. So things are going to look exceedingly drastic until there are reasonable expectations for new state revenues.

Locally, the Board will elect a leadership team (President and Vice President) for 2011 at Tuesday’s meeting.