Tag Archives: budget crisis

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.

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The Economist gets it wrong

Usually I can count on The Economist magazine to offer a bemused but pragmatic analysis (albeit from a European viewpoint) of events and issues in the U.S. Not this time! A brief article on California’s education woes is pure conservative party line (with a halfhearted dig at Prop. 13 tacked on at the end for balance). It’s almost as if the writer just phoned in the commentary from a comfy perch in the magazine’s Washington bureau (there is a Los Angeles dateline, so maybe the writer phoned in the piece while relaxing poolside at the Chateau Marmont).  But really, when you look at who is quoted, it’s not surprising the article takes the slant it does:

Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist who is trying to reform education, blames a combination of California’s dysfunctional governance, with “elected school boards made up of wannabes and unions”, and the fact that the state’s teachers’ union is both more powerful and “more regressive” than elsewhere. The California Teachers Association (CTA) is the biggest lobby in the state, having spent some $210m in the past decade—more than any other group— to intervene in California’s politics.

The CTA has used its money to defeat almost any reform that might have turned the standards into reality. It helped to defeat ballot measures that, for example, would have given California a school-voucher system and changed the probation period for teachers. It ensured that the state has “laughably easy teacher tests”, as [Mike Petrilli of the D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute] puts it. It is also the biggest donor to the state’s Democratic Party.

Ah. I see. A controversial promoter of charter schools (not a big fan of elected school boards he) and a researcher from an organization that is considered by many to promote a conservative agenda of privatizing public education.  That explains it.

I’ve certainly read other criticisms of CTA and the amount of money it spends to influence elections, but I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for their work in passing education-friendly legislation and for crushing multiple attempts to introduce vouchers here in California (most of the time, the state PTA and CTA are on the same side in supporting or opposing legislation – and lucky for us PTA members, CTA has a bankroll to actually get the message out).  And if I were making a list of the biggest causes of the crisis we face here in California’s educational system, I’d put outdated, inequitable funding formulas and inadequate funding altogether at the very top of my list: not CTA.

More CA school districts hit the state’s distress list

Not that I’m surprised, but today the state released its list of school districts in financial distress and the Sacramento Bee reports that the number is higher than ever before

School districts file a projected budget with the state by June 30 of every year, covering the fiscal year running from July 1 to the following June 30. Then, they file “interim reports” as the year progresses, so that the state can monitor whether they are staying on track financially.  A district can be given positive, negative or “qualified” certification by the state based on the financial statements it files with any of its budget reports. 

Positive certification means your budget for the current year is balanced, and your projections for the two years following the current year show positive cash flow and the required amount of cash in reserve (two percent in the case of SFUSD). If the state thinks you may not meet your financial obligations in the current or future years, you are given qualified certification; if the state believes you will not meet your financial obligations in the current year or future years, you are given negative certification. According to the Bee:

Happily, despite our looming $113 million budget shortfall through 2012, SFUSD did not hit the “qualified” or “negative” certification lists — yet at least. The consequences of landing on these lists grow progressively more severe, with closer and closer oversight from the state.  This report from School Services of California goes into the possible consequences of a negative or qualified report in great detail; also of interest is this list of warning signs that are most commonly encountered as districts approach a fiscal meltdown.
These developments are interesting in the context of the vote the Board will take tomorrow night — on whether to approve the Superintendent’s proposed Budget Deficit Action Plan.  The Action Plan is not a budget, but it does lay out a framework for how the Superintendent proposes to close the $113 million gap.  The Superintendent’s argument for passing such a plan now is to signal to our labor partners, the state and the bond rating agencies that we are committed to fiscal responsibility and will make hard choices when they are necessary. I tend to agree with that, but I also can see from my e-mail that we need to do a better job of educating members of the public about the various choices before us.

Notes from the budget committee

Tonight the Board met as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the Superintendent’s proposed Budget Deficit Action Plan. The Superintendent is requesting that the Board approve his proposed strategy for closing the district’s looming $113 million budget deficit for the coming two years (2010-11 and 2011-12).  I’ve written earlier about his proposals, and tonight was the opportunity for the Board to discuss those proposals in further detail with the staff.

We also had an opportunity to hear from the Parent Advisory Council and PPS about the budget forums they hosted with community members earlier this month. There were three forums plus a workshop at the Site Council Summit in February, attended by a total of about 100 people. Their comments were faithfully recorded in detail and summarized in a report the groups delivered tonight. I very much appreciate the work, and there were some good suggestions and questions in the report, but overall after hearing it I felt we still have a long way to go before people get to a place where they feel they really understand the issues we’re facing. 

There were a number of members of the public who came to speak: members of Coleman Advocates stressed the importance of continuing to focus on closing the achievement gap; parents and community members from Dianne Feinstein and Monroe voiced concerns about the impact proposed cuts will have on their programs;  members of the San Francisco Organizing Project presented an alternative budget with 20% cuts across the board to most central office functions; and arts advocates spoke against the proposal to “flex” the Art and Music Block Grant — a $1.4 million reduction over two years (we are fortunate to be able to maintain a protected $4.8 million stream of arts funding through the Public Education Enrichment Fund, so this proposal would not reduce arts funding completely).

New ideas discussed by the Board tonight included revisiting proposed cuts to transportation — which at the moment would primarily affect students who are being bused to Galileo, Mission and O’Connell high schools.  This idea came out of the budget committee back in December 2008,  when the committee opted not to consider the more painful options of cutting service to elementary schools or changing bell times. However, 15 months later we are in a whole new ball game, so Commissioners indicated they might be willing to consider these tougher cuts if it kept cuts away from the classroom.  We also asked whether schools could be given more flexibility with their budgets than they have now, so that one school could opt to raise class sizes and keep a Learning Support Professional (LSP, generally a counselor or nurse) while another school might opt to consolidate its LSP position to keep class sizes low. This would, of course, assume that we are eventually able to negotiate a class size increase in order for schools to even have the option of raising their class sizes higher than the budgeted 26 (right now K classrooms have been enrolled to 22 but schools have been budgeted for K-3 class sizes of about 26).

Anyway, aside from the inevitable “don’t cut this essential program!” arguments, the chief issue before the Board is whether or not to endorse the Superintendent’s somewhat aggressive stance on moving forward with proposed cuts, even though we don’t have to adopt a budget until the end of June. Mr. Garcia’s chief argument is that there’s very little point in waiting, since we know we will have to make severe cuts, and prolonging the agony simply keeps schools and staff members twisting in the wind, wondering about what their site budgets will be and whether they will have a job next year.  In addition, he appears increasingly concerned about the district’s bond rating, which will be reviewed by the rating agencies next month. If, he argues, the rating agencies don’t see a plan to deal with the looming deficit, they will downgrade our rating and make it more expensive for us to sell bonds (which makes our many ongoing facilities projects cost more). In addition, the district on occasion sells short term debt to strengthen our cash flow between payments from the state. A downgraded bond rating would make that harder to do.

The argument on the other side is that the proposals haven’t been fully vetted by the Board and the community, and that more time is needed for everyone to digest and gain full understanding of what is being proposed.

The backdrop to all of this are intense labor negotiations happening behind closed doors with members of United Educators of San Francisco and members of the administration. The Superintendent’s plan asks for more than $44 million from our labor partners, and this is not an easy request for them to swallow.

The plan comes back to the full board for second reading and a final vote on March 23.

Observe the March 4 Day of Action!

Hope to see everyone at City Hall at 5 p.m. TODAY for a massive rally against state cuts to K-12 and higher education. UESF members and K-12 advocates will be assembling at 4 p.m. at the state building on Van Ness for a rally and march to the main rally an hour later.

Schools all over the city are observing the Day of Action — I’m sure photos will start appearing around the Web so I’ll post things as I see them.

PTA moms to Phil Matier: We’re outraged at proposed budget cuts!

Crystal Brown and Linda Shaffer got up very early this morning to do a TV segment on the upcoming Town Hall Meeting. They were on message — nice work, ladies!  Watch the clip >>>>

Funding our future: town hall meeting on budget cuts

Enterprising PTA members have organized a Town Hall meeting on February 25 to “begin the conversation” on proposed budget cuts to our schools. Local legislators, including Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano, as well as Senator Mark Leno, are scheduled to attend (Superintendent Garcia and Board President Jane Kim will represent the district).** Below, PTA members Holly Carver and Crystal Brown discuss their advocacy plans in a Comcast Newsmakers interview:

The meeting will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on February 25, 2010 at Marina Middle School (3500 Fillmore St. at Chestnut St. in San Francisco). For more information, and to reserve free childwatch or translation, please visit the event’s web site: www.fundingourfuturesf.com

**State Senator Leland Yee, who represents west side neighborhoods in San Franciso and parts of the Penninsula, is apparently having trouble fitting the Town Hall meeting into his schedule. Constituents of Senator Yee’s might want to contact his office to impress upon him how important it is for every member of our local delegation to attend this meeting and hear from their constituents, because their votes on the state budget this year will directly affect the level of funding in our local schools.