Schools in California have been under tremendous pressure in recent years — at the height of the Great Recession, almost 20 percent of school districts in California were in serious or even severe fiscal trouble.
The reasons for this distress are simple: the state has not provided enough money to meet the expectations all of us have for quality schools. And even as state funding for education improves, California is still not funding education as the level we should. The work of school board members is to make tough budget choices, and hold to priorities when we can’t do everything we want or need to do. My budget priorities are:
- Continuing to support teachers as we transition to Common Core: Common Core is a paradigm shift for teachers, and it is beyond important to support professional development as we ask teachers to differentiate instruction and move towards teaching methods that encourage critical thinking and problem solving ahead of answer-getting. Teachers need time with coaches and planning time with their colleagues to fully-incorporate the demands of the Common Core State Standards and that takes investment in release time, professional development and smaller class sizes to accomplish. These three things are my top budget priorities going forward to be sure we realize the promises that have been made to students and families in the transition to Common Core.
- Equity is important: It’s just a fact that some schools in SFUSD have more than others, and most people would agree that this imbalance is not fair. The reasons behind the inequity we see across the district are complex and they are not straightforward to address — take parent fundraising as an example. Some schools have parents with far more ability to fundraise and give than other schools, so they have been able to create and fund more programs for their students. How should we address this? I don’t support caps on fundraising, as some districts have; nor do I think we should (even if central office had the ability to track it) take parent fundraising into account when deciding each school’s budget. Instead, I think the Weighted Student Formula (WSF), which takes into account student characteristics like poverty and English language proficiency, is a fairer and more objective way to ensure that those who need the most get more. However, the WSF weights haven’t been updated in years, and I think we need to look at that more closely in order to be sure that the current formula is working as well as it should. Strategic program placement is a huge strategy in attracting students –who bring dollars with them — to under-enrolled schools; the district hasn’t always used that lever very effectively.
- Transparency: Most people don’t understand the district budget document and don’t have the first idea on how to analyze the budget. As a Commissioner, I have access to district staff and data, and I try to use that access to better inform constituents through this blog. But I admit that I can’t go far enough to address the interest and desire for hard facts and analysis, and I deeply believe in the power of communication and information in helping guide policy debates and building community consensus. Should we be more transparent about our budget process, and work harder to inform stakeholders of the trade-offs and choices? Absolutely. I will continue to advocate for more transparency, more communication, and more opportunities to engage in the district’s budgeting process.