Tag Archives: budget crisis

Meeting recap: How to cut $113 million and other assorted minidramas

Tonight’s meeting agenda was pretty packed with items, including a much-awaited update from the Superintendent on the $113 million budget shortfall announced last week, and a sometimes-contentious discussion on the spending plan for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF).   In addition, UESF members were out in force, wearing their blue shirts and doing their best to remind us that cuts to the classroom have a devastating impact on students and staff (not that we didn’t already know this fact, but it never hurts to repeat it). I don’t think UESF members really blame us for the crisis — they know it originated in Sacramento — but tonight they sent the message that we need to be as fair and as transparent as possible in our budgeting from here on out. “Sharing the pain” is a nice idea, but there are any number of ways to do that, and it’s easy to come to blows over the decision-making. If we can keep our partnership with the unions intact over the coming months, it will be better for our students in the long run.

Continue reading

The recession’s terrible impact on California schools

A group of researchers at UCLA have completed a sobering study of the effect of the economic downturn on California schools and their students, based on extensive interviews with 87 principals across the state.  The key findings in the study include:

–The recession has created acute new social needs for students attending a broad cross section of California public schools;
–California’s weak educational and fiscal infrastructure has limited the ability of schools to respond to these new needs, despite the extraordinary efforts of local educators;
–Conditions supporting teaching and learning have eroded;
–Many school programs and services previously viewed as essential (such as summer school) have been eliminated or cut back;
–Budget cuts have undermined efforts of schools to sustain improvement and reform;
–As school-by-school fundraising supplements inadequate budgets, opportunities for children in poor communities can fall further behind opportunities for children in wealthier communities. This has serious implications for attempts to close achievement gaps.

The study likens current conditions to what the state’s schools experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the characterization is more apt than they know: California schools have not experienced funding cuts of this magnitude since–wait for it–the Great Depression.

The sun will come out tomorrow

I’m afraid Tuesday evening’s post on our looming $113 million deficit for 2010-11 and 2011-12 (combined) left a lot of people feeling depressed and worried. It is depressing, no question, and none of the options in front of the school district for closing the gap are at all palatable. Still, there are a few bright spots in the generally gloomy skies:

  • Our funding for sports, libraries, arts and music (SLAM) is generally protected, because it is a set aside under the city budget. Next year’s SLAM funding is estimated to be $15 million even after the City pulls its 25 percent “trigger” (allowed because the City is facing its own budget crisis), and it funds music, art and P.E. teachers, programs and supplies at each school level, and librarians for district schools.
  • Discussions with the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors continue over going to the voters to secure additional revenues to protect our local schools from the crisis in Sacramento. If these discussions are productive, and we can convince voters to pass a revenue measure, our budget shortfall would be reduced significantly.
  • The district administration and United Educators of San Francisco are working together to see if we can find funds to offer a one-time retirement bonus to staff at the upper end of the pay scale. We saw a lower-than-normal number of teachers and paraprofessionals retire last year, so there’s a possibility that there are staff out there who are already considering retirement — this one-time bonus might sweeten the deal for those staff members. It would also lower our overall payroll and save some jobs of less-senior teachers and paraprofessionals.
  • Discussions about the budget are happening earlier and more comprehensively than usual, in an effort to involve the community as broadly as possible in the decision-making. On Jan. 26 (this coming Tuesday), the Superintendent will offer a list of budget options under consideration, and has pledged that at least some of the worst decisions will be made before we have to send out our “March 15” letters informing staff that their jobs may be eliminated next year — hopefully decreasing the overall number of these awful letters.  
  • Finally, don’t forget that we could get a Race to the Top grant! For all my grousing about the questionable policy requirements RtTT contains, at the end of the day it would still be nice to have the money.

All of this isn’t much in the way of cheer, I know, but at least it’s something.  And I have faith that we will come through this, somehow. Three years from now the schools will be standing, there will be learning going on, and hopefully, brighter skies ahead.

2010: Another budget bloodbath

Well, the holiday weeks have been nice, with all the joy and lovely food and family time, but now it’s time to return to cold, hard, January-type reality.  Tonight’s KTVU report on the state budget wasn’t about education — it focuses more on the plight of adults with severe disabilities and their families. Respite funds, meant to give caregivers a break a few times a month, are now in danger, along with many other state-funded supports these families depend on.

Get used to hearing more and more sad stories from deserving people who should not be subjected to the kinds of cuts we’re going to be experiencing.  It’s going to be another difficult year.

Budget outlook: CSBA looks for the silver lining

It’s no surprise that the budget outlook for schools, and the state as a whole, continues to be grim. At the “State of the State” closing session at this year’s annual conference of the California School Boards Association,  several education lobbyists and policy experts gave their assessments for 2010-11 — trying to give local school board members some sense of a silver lining — but with limited success.

First, CSBA lobbyist Rick Pratt surveyed the wreckage of the past 12 months — three budgets, none of which were balanced, and an ever-increasing state budget deficit which legislators continue to try to close with gimmickry. According to the legislative analyst, the state’s budget gap going into the 2010-11 budget year is almost $21 billion, and climbing. Worse, the minimum funding guarantee for schools under Proposition 98 is down $9 billion to $49 billion for next year — all in, a cut that equals $2,000 per student statewide.

Then, Janelle Kubinek, an executive with School Services of California, offered a more philosophical overview of schools’ predicament. Prison officials, she said, were told to find a way to cut $1 billion out of their budgets last year — so in response, they told legislators they’d be forced to release 30,000 prisoners.  “It’s as if [schools] had said ‘we’re not going to be able to educate third graders next year. Where would you like us to drop them off?’ ” said Kubinek. The state education code and funding mechanisms have been restructured to allow schools to “do less with less,” Kubinek said, but what schools should do is think about “doing different with less.” 

Echoing the other advocates, Kevin Gordon of School Innovations & Advocacy said that schools have taken a disproportionate share of cuts in the state budget — education spending represents 40% of the state budget, and yet education has taken 50% of total state budget cuts. 

The silver lining? Schools are actually owed $1 billion in Prop. 98 money for 2009-10 (the reasons for this are complex), which gives us a chip in 2010-11 negotiations. The Governor has three options: pay us the money, defer the payments to future years, or suspend Proposition 98 entirely.  In addition, the state accepted stimulus funds, and those funds carried with them a requirement that states maintain current funding levels for schools rather than cutting back and using Federal funds to backfill. This is another chip we can use in negotiations — providing that the Obama Administration does not waive this “maintenance of effort” requirement for California (there is political pressure for the White House to do just that).

The advocates at the final session didn’t talk about the coming adequacy lawsuit, but that is a part of the silver lining, too. The Education Legal Alliance, a group made up of school districts, teachers, PTA and other education advocacy groups, is just weeks away from filing an adequacy lawsuit charging that there is a disconnect between our state’s education policies and our funding mechanism. In the words of one of the attorneys involved in the case, “successful schools in California are the anomalies, and not easily replicable . . . The point is that [most schools] can’t get there with this level of funding.”

I came away with a sense that there are advocacy opportunities: we can voice support for the adequacy lawsuit, pressure the Obama Administration not to let California out of its obligation to maintain its education funding efforts, or simply make sure our local legislators (Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano, and Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee) remember that voting for any further cuts in education, even those recommended by the Democratic leadership, is not acceptable.

Rebuilding California: Update

This past July I attended “Rebuilding California: From the Ground Up,” a joint summit of representatives from cities, counties and school districts. Now the joint task force has posted an interesting and very comprehensive summary document (PDF) of the themes they heard from participants in the conference, as well as a pretty thorough selection of powerpoints and video from the event (the UI could be better: to find the materials on the CCS home page, scroll down to the box with the big “Rebuilding California” headline).

More details of the state budget and how it affects SFUSD

Tonight the state legislature is passing a budget, bit by bit, acting on 30 bills detailing spending cuts, fee increases and accounting gimmicks to close the state’s $26.3 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2009-10.   At the moment it’s not clear whether all of the bills will pass with the required two-thirds majority; anything that falls short will force the Big Five to go back to the negotiating table. (At this point I can’t resist sourly pointing out that the legislature has not seen fit to make itself subject to the Brown Act — the open meeting law that our Board and all other legislative bodies in the state must observe. If we tried to do business with a tiny minority of the Board negotiating in secret . . . well, you can imagine the uproar.)

Anyway. I’ve been asking some questions of our staff on the issue of how $2.6 billion in cuts to K-12 education and an additional $1.7 billion in deferrals will affect our district budget. As a very rough yardstick, every billion dollars in unrestricted funding (also called our “revenue limit” funding)  adds up to about $160 per student.  So, the proposed cuts add up to about $430 per student plus an additional $270 per student deferred to later years — in all, an alarming $700 per student. But I’m told that we have been reasonably accurate with our assumptions and so, while cuts of this magnitude are painful and alarming, we have anticipated them and planned accordingly. Also, it’s inside baseball, but because the state did not enact a revised 2008-09 budget before the end of the fiscal year last month, the cuts we were expecting for 2008-09 did not materialize, giving us more cash on paper than anticipated going into 2009-10 and allowing us to absorb more cuts for the current fiscal year. And, it bears mentioning again, we have been bailed out for the second straight year by a share of the City’s rainy day fund.

It also bears repeating that the 2010-11 budget will present much more difficult choices with little or no relief coming from the City.  The outlook continues to be grim for the state, and while we locally have been cushioned from the worst by the foresight of the Rainy Day Fund and the generousity of the voters, that cushion is eroding fast.  It also doesn’t bode well for the future that, in addition to devastating cuts to education, health care and services for the poorest and most vulnerable state residents, the legislature yet again turned to accounting gimmicks like issuing employees’ June 30 paychecks on July 1 so as to kick a chunk of the state payroll into the next fiscal year. That’s what counts as “budgeting” in today’s California.

News of a budget deal

The Sacramento Bee and other news outlets are reporting that the Big Five (the Governor and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the legislature) have at long last reached a budget deal.  The Bee reports:

The proposal includes spending cuts to programs ranging from schools to welfare-to-work to prisons. It takes money from local governments, including borrowing $2 billion that the state will repay starting in 2013.

But Democrats also ensured that California will pay $9.5 billion to education once the state’s economy rebounds as compensation for 2008-09 school cuts. They also avoided suspending Proposition 98, the state’s constitutional guarantee for education funding.

The compromise package is also filled with changes to state government not normally associated with budget deals. It increases sanctions on welfare recipients in an attempt to encourage more people to work. But Democrats said they avoided wholesale cuts in welfare-to-work, Healthy Families and Cal Grant programs.

Don’t be too excited by the promise that schools will get repaid for earlier cuts, but it is always a good thing if lawmakers avoid suspending Prop. 98. Anyway, once the staff gives us a more specific sense of what the final budget means for us in 2009-10, I’ll post it here.

Rebuilding California: From the ground up

Over the weekend I spent two days in Sacramento at the Local Government Summit hosted by the Cities Counties Schools (CCS) Partnership, a consortium of advocacy organizations representing about 8,000 local elected officials from school boards, city councils and county boards of supervisors all over the state.

The idea behind the summit was to gather the clout of all of those elected officials together and try to develop some broad principles for change in California.  There were presentations on various reform efforts, including those being put forward by the Bay Area Council (which is pushing for a constitutional convention) and California Forward (which is proposing a set of discrete legislative proposals/ballot initiatives that would reform the state budget and the way state government works);  an interesting presentation on the mood of the electorate; and breakout sessions for participants to discuss and indicate support or opposition to various proposals and initiatives.

The meeting was energizing, since it is amazing to realize how much power local officials could have in harnessing the discontent that is being voiced by all Californians. Indeed, polls all over the state are showing that voters trust their locally elected officials but are losing more confidence in the legislature and the Governor by the day.  Still, for that power to be realized, all of us local officials would have to speak with one voice, which the meeting also showed could be a tall order.

For example, while participants overwhelmingly supported the idea of “protecting local revenues,” a huge sticking point arises over which revenue sources are local and moreover, what “local” means, since cities, counties and school districts are each discrete entities with sometimes overlapping jurisdictions (luckily we don’t have that issue here in San Francisco, since the city/county/school district boundaries are the same).  In the breakout conversation I attended, city council members from rural and suburban areas sparred over how to divide sales taxes and property taxes, which doesn’t bode well for all of us finding a way to agree.

Anyway, there was broad agreement on the fact that state government is broken, and that the relationship between local entities and the state needs to be overhauled. School district, city and county representatives all voiced the sense that the state has lost its ability to prioritize, and would rather meddle in local affairs rather than pay attention to tougher statewide issues like the budget.

In the straw poll at the end of the two-day meeting, participants voiced the most support for:

  • Protecting local revenues;
  • Reforming term limits;
  • Reducing the 2/3 requirement to pass a tax/bond issue;
  • Requiring legislators to find new funding sources for initiatives that impose new responsibilities on local governments.

In the end, I came away feeling that something good has started, but it remains to be seen where the effort will go and whether it will really enact the change all of us are yearning for. To learn more, download the statement of joint principles and possible reform options created by the CCS Partnership.

We ain’t got the Do Re Mi, Guv

I know, I just posted an awesome musical interlude, but here’s another – just can’t resist!

Love that South Pasadena Grade A Jug Band!