Tag Archives: layoffs

Long day . . . with news and meeting recaps

Update (4 p.m. Wednesday): I’m very sad to report that Mikaela Lynch was found dead today. My heart goes out to her family and her community at Sunset ES. I was at the school with the Superintendent this afternoon and everyone is devastated. I’m very thankful to the teachers and paraprofessionals who dropped everything to help with the search — I only wish this story did not have such a sad ending.

Tuesdays are always my long day — starting at the normal time but ending much later due to Board meetings. I feel guilty, too, since I didn’t post a recap after the April 23 meeting — so I’m behind as well as tired. Time to power through:

Developments in corruption investigation: In mid-2010, about halfway into my first-term, then-Superintendent Garcia and then-Deputy Superintendent Carranza grimly informed the Board that the district had discovered very questionable expenditures and grant reporting practices in the Student Support Services Department. In short order, district leadership moved to tighten up its practices and the case was handed off to the District Attorney’s office for further investigation.  Today, almost three years later,  District Attorney Gascón announced that four former and two current district employees will be charged with felonies related to the investigation, which is still ongoing. I’m grateful to the District Attorney for the hard work he and his staff have put into discovering the truth and bringing misdeeds to light, but it’s still a punch in the gut to know that this level of fraud was occurring on my watch — even though I nor anyone else in leadership couldn’t have known what was going on until whistleblowers came forward with key information. (Read the school district’s news release on the charges here).

SFUSD student with autism goes missing: I’ve also been very engaged with the search for a 9-year-old SFUSD student who is nonverbal and has severe autism. The little girl, Mikaela Lynch, was last seen running down a road leading from a house in Clearlake on  Sunday afternoon, and I am incredibly touched and grateful that half a dozen staff members from her school have gone to Clearlake to assist with the search.  Mikaela cannot respond to her name and is reported to be wearing little or no clothing — anyone with ANY information that might be helpful should call the Clearlake Police Department at the number listed on this flyer (which also contains photographs and other helpful information). The district is covering the cost of substitutes while school staff is participating in the search.

May 14, 2013 meeting: The Board voted to increase developer fees (money school districts may assess on property developments to offset increased financial demands on schools from new residential and commercial/industrial developments). Residential development projects will now be assessed $2.91 per square foot planned, but the Board at some future date will consider lowering that assessment for affordable housing that meets specific requirements. In addition, the Board adopted the LEA plan (recommended reading), which is required by the state annually to detail progress on closing identified gaps in achievement between groups of students –e.g., English-speakers vs. English learners; the plan must also spell out additional actions the district will take if progress is not made. Finally, we honored the Parent Advisory Council on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, and The Arc of San Francisco for its incredible partnership and support in the establishment of our Access SFUSD: The Arc classroom for students with moderate to severe disabilities ages 18-22. (Photo courtesy of Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufas).

Honoring Access SFUSD - The Arc team

Public comment: There was a group of Bessie Carmichael parents and students, accompanied by Filipino community leaders, to complain about leadership at the school; in addition a large number of teachers, paraprofessionals and their supporters in United Educators of San Francisco came to protest the Board’s decision to issue final layoff notices for about 140 certificated staff.

April 23, 2013 meeting brief recap:  I’ve been feeling guilty for a few weeks that I never posted this recap. At the April 23 meeting, the Board adopted a revised instructional calendar for 2012-13 (May 31 will now be a full day rather than a half day) and authorized the issuance of low-risk short-term notes that improve cash flow in anticipation of tax revenue. Furloughs for all employees in 2013-14 have been rescinded. The Superintendent also introduced  (as requested by the Board in the resolution passed in March of this year) a proposed Local Hire policy that will be considered in detail at a Committee of the Whole on June 4 and come up for a final vote at the meeting of June 11.

Recap: February 26, 2013

The second meeting in February is always the meeting nobody wants to go to, because it’s the meeting where the Board votes on layoffs and non-re-elect notices to non-tenured teachers. There had been some hope earlier in the year that, due to the brightening state budget picture and the passage of Prop. 30 in November, there might not have to be layoffs this year.

Unfortunately, there is still too much uncertainty in the state budget picture, not to mention the looming prospect of sequestration in the Federal budget–threatening almost $4 million in cuts to district resources next year– to eliminate layoffs entirely for 2013-14.  In addition, the district’s School Improvement Grant (SIG)  is ending this year, meaning we lose $15 million in annual funding we have received each of the last three years. Other categorical funding grants are ending as well.  Finally, the Board continues to push the Superintendent to fully align our budget with the ongoing priorities in our strategic plan, especially taking into account the lessons we have learned with SIG (e.g., the value of the community schools approach, on-the-job coaching and professional development, and family engagement).  Realignment in an environment where resources are still scarce means tough decisions about program needs across the district.

It’s perhaps overly sunny to call it good news, but there are fewer staff getting notices this year than at any time since I took office in January 2009; 191 fewer certificated staff than last year. No multiple-subject (elementary school) teachers were noticed this year.  With that, here are the numbers:

Staff receiving preliminary layoff notices for the 2013-14 school year (FTE):

Pre-K-12 Certificated (teachers, social workers, counselors, nurses)– 118

Early Education Department teachers– 10

Administrators– 24

Paraprofessionals–43

In addition, the Board also voted to accept the Superintendent’s recommendation to “non-re-elect” 33 teachers across the district who would otherwise have been granted tenure if they were employed by the district in the 2013-14 school year. This is a very difficult decision, because by definition, a non-re-election of a probationary teacher can be made without any specific cause. A probationary teacher can (and many do) receive satisfactory evaluations and still not be re-elected, simply because the administrator supervising them does not feel it is a good enough fit to grant them tenure status.

The very difficult part for me  tonight was that 14 of the 33 were special education teachers — a job that is one of the toughest across the district, and of course a credential area that is perennially in demand. Being a new special education teacher is exceptionally difficult, and without adequate support it is more than likely a teacher will fail in some area or another. So the failure to “find a fit” is perhaps a greater failure of the district’s rather than the individual teacher; still, it is important to back up our administrators when they make the very tough calls we have been telling them they must make in order to continue putting student learning above all else.

Teachers who have been non-re-elected can opt to resign at the end of the year in order to avoid having “non-re-elected” appear in their employee file, and can apply for any future opportunity with the school district.

In the news:  Did you know SFUSD has the highest percentage of teachers who have attained National Board Certified status of any district in California? That’s right — 231, or about six percent of 3,600 teachers across the district–have now attained the prestigious (and rigorous to attain) professional designation.  The newest batch of teachers who have achieved this status in 2012-13 will be honored at the March 12 Board meeting.

We aim to please: A commenter recently asked for a copy of the bedrock principles of inclusion that were submitted as a proposed Board policy recently. Here they are.

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.

SCENARIO A: UNRESTRICTED GENERAL FUND IF TAXES PASS

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.

SCENARIO B: UNRESTRICTED GENERAL FUND IF TAXES FAIL

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.

Meeting recap: March 13, 2012

Update: I was so tired last night I completely forgot to mention another bright spot from the meeting — an update from Peer Resources on the programs they provide in 13 schools ( high schools and middle schools). This is a fabulous program that teaches teens conflict resolution and leadership skills, and it has changed a lot of lives! It’s a program of the San Francisco Education Fund that needs to be in every high school and middle school. Thanks to Peer Resources for an uplifting report. 

Anger over the Board’s Feb. 28 vote on layoffs continues. We had a large group of UESF members and other labor supporters address the board to oppose the layoffs, and the Board’s 5-1 decision to skip teachers at 14 lower-performing schools.

Some of the arguments were economic: do we really need to do layoffs? What about the district’s reserves? My answer to those questions is that the reserves aren’t enough for the worst case scenario if the tax proposals currently headed to the ballot fail, if the state’s revenues continue to falter and negotiations on the new contract do not produce any savings over projected costs for 2012-13.

Some of the arguments were political: We should be arguing with Sacramento, not amongst ourselves; The district’s layoff strategy is divisive and represents union-busting; Other schools are just as needy as those the district chose to skip. I agree that we should place the blame with Sacramento, but I don’t agree that skipping the SZ schools is union-busting. In voting for the skip my intent was not to weaken the union, but instead to support — in a limited way– schools that have under-performed for generations.  My friends at UESF strongly disagree. Are there more underperforming schools that could benefit by keeping their teachers? YES. But skipping the 25 hard-to-staff schools would have presented an even greater challenge to UESF and I believe for that reason, the Superintendent chose not to go there.  Still, several of us quietly agreed with the El Dorado staff when they told us we had not gone far enough to do anything for their school.  (And I must give an annual shoutout to the El Dorado staff for the way they stand up for their school and for each other. They don’t think much of the Board or district leadership, but anyway I do appreciate their efforts and their advocacy. People are listening, even if maybe you think they aren’t.)

Several members of the Martin Luther King Jr. High community came to talk to us about discipline, leadership and personnel issues at their school; we also heard from several parents of children who are eligible for Transitional Kindergarten and remain unhappy with the district’s decision to go ahead with opening two TK programs — one in Visitacion Valley and one in the Bayview.

Board members unanimously passed a resolution in support of the SF Botanical Garden Society’s plans to upgrade its educational programs through the construction of a “Center for Sustainable Gardening.” These programs benefit thousands of SF public school students each year and I was glad to author a resolution that brings  the Society’s dream of a true education center at the Botanical Garden a bit closer to reality.

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.

Feb 28 meeting preview: Board to consider layoffs

I’d urge you to skip tonight’s meeting, except that doing so wouldn’t be very responsible or appropriate. I can, however, tell you that listening to it or watching it (either online or in person) is going to be no fun at all — the only thing worse will be actually having to take the votes.

Tonight the Board considers the annual “Reduction in Force” (RIF) resolution and associated criteria for determining which teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators will receive preliminary layoff notices on March 15.

This year’s resolution asks the Board to issue preliminary layoff notices to 123 administrators, 210 teachers and 158 paraprofessionals (an additional 91 paraprofessionals would see their hours reduced).  All of this represents a “worst case” scenario — the district is required under state law to notice any employees who might be laid off at the end of the budget year by March 15; in addition, the threat of layoffs is a necessary pre-condition for the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors to release a portion of the City’s Rainy Day Fund to the school district. If the state budget gets better, and if we receive Rainy Day funds, many of these employees’ jobs will be saved, but we won’t know that for several more months.

The RIF process comes with an extra twist this year: the Superintendent is asking the Board to “skip” all teachers working in the 14 Superintendent Zone schools. Many of those folks are already senior enough to avoid layoffs, or have credentials that would allow them to be skipped from layoffs (special education is one example, math, science and bilingual teachers are other common exceptions the district has used in the past), but 70 are newer to the district and so their low seniority makes them more vulnerable to layoffs.  Expect a long discussion and heated public comment about this topic.

Background on the layoff process in prior years is (in no particular order) here, here and here.

Taking the necessary, if deeply wrong, steps

Yesterday and today have seemed like one long Board of Education meeting — a grand total of 7 and a half hours when all was said and done.  Tonight’s meeting was mainly about public comment and about the unpleasant but necessary step of approving layoff notices for 279 teachers.

We heard almost 90 minutes of public comment on various site-based budget decisions that will result in cuts to programs: Washington HS, for example, will probably have to cut back on course offerings in language and other electives;  Lincoln HS has cut its music offerings (arts funding through Prop. H is protected, but the site has chosen to focus spending on visual arts rather than music).  Parents at Bryant Elementary came to protest the proposal that their school would feed into International Studies Academy for middle and high school;  teachers from El Dorado Elementary and Marina Middle School came to protest the layoff notices. Probably (at least for me) the most emotional moment of the night came when our student delegate, Athena Creer, tearfully told the visitors from Washington and Lincoln about the lack of programming at her high school (Burton) and expressed resignation that schools just aren’t able to offer what students want.  She was right to point out the inconsistencies across high schools in our own district  and her comments were thought-provoking. They were also tragic,  and refocused the room on the real problem: it’s not only that some schools should keep what they have, but that ALL schools should have more.

This week, teachers from up and down California are declaring a state of emergency and saying: No More. On last night’s news I saw at least one SFUSD teacher arrested for occupying the state capitol; each day there are activities to focus different constituencies on the state budget crisis and what it means for our futures. On Friday there will be rallies across the state for anyone who doesn’t think the status quo is OK. (Locally, our rally will be held in Civic Center plaza starting at 4 p.m. )

We thanked the teachers tonight for their advocacy and then did what was necessary, though deeply wrong: voted to issue several hundred layoff notices before the May 15 deadline.

Other actions:

  • The Board adopted a new proposed contract with SEIU Local 1021;
  • The Board accepted for first reading a proposal to place a $500 million facilities bond on the November ballot; the proposal will be vetted and discussed at a Committee of the Whole on May 17;
  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the May 9-13 State of Emergency Week of Action sponsored by the California Teachers Association;
  • The Board accepted for first reading a proposal to clarify the role of the Community Advisory Committee for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) – the proposal will be heard at the next meeting of the Rules, Policy and Legislation Committee.
  • In its report to the Board, the Parent Advisory Council issued several clarifications and responses to questions raised in last night’s Student Assignment Committee meeting on the middle school feeder plan, most notably that the PAC had never reported “predictability” as a major concern of parents in student assignment.

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.

Major developments in LAUSD layoff case

I haven’t written about this case in the context of our own layoffs here in San Francisco, but education policy wonks around the state have been closely watching a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the Los Angeles Unified School District; the case alleges that the disproportionate impact of layoffs at three LAUSD middle schools violates the civil rights of low income students and students of color who make up the enrollment at those schools.

Late this afternoon, the judge in the case issued a preliminary injunction blocking the layoffs.  Potentially, this injunction could have a major impact, since there is already a statewide conversation going on over the impact of seniority in widespread layoffs. California school districts could lay off as many as 26,000 teachers this year — we have little choice after years of cuts to education funding, and no relief in sight.  Since state law requires school district to lay teachers off in order of seniority, hard-to-staff schools filled with less senior teachers are disproportionately affected.

I think it’s misguided to gut seniority policies wholesale — some of the current rhetoric around the country smacks more of union-busting than educational reform — but I would support changes to the Education Code allowing school districts to negotiate protections for fragile school communities that would otherwise be decimated by seniority-based layoffs.

Is the end in sight? Recapping an eventful day

El Dorado teachers protest layoffs during public comment.

I’m not sure whether tonight’s headline should be “Board approves 349 permanent layoff notices” or “District, teachers union reach ‘conceptual’ agreement.” Both are true, and equally newsworthy to readers of this blog.

I’m going to give a lot of credit to the leadership of UESF, who persevered and got to an agreement they could take back to their membership after many long and inconclusive hours at the negotiating table. This agreement, subject to ratification by the union membership in coming days, took shape just minutes before tonight’s Board meeting convened. I can’t give many details, but I can say that it keeps elementary class sizes at current levels through the 2010-11 school year. I can also say that earlier today, any agreement looked far away indeed.  So kudos to the union leaders and to district staff, equally bleary-eyed after a very long and sometimes bitter negotiation. I truly hope the membership will agree that what UESF leadership will present is the best that could be wrought under the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately, there will still be layoffs. Unlike almost any other urban district in California, we have not had to confront layoffs in recent years due to the City’s Rainy Day Fund.  But that fund is now depleted, and it is unfortunately time to face what others across the state have been dealing with for at least the past 18 months, if not longer. First, let’s review the numbers:

  • $113 million — the amount of the district’s projected budget shortfall through 2010-11;
  • $3.6 billion — the shortfall between the estimated 2010-11 state revenues in the Governor’s January budget and the current estimate expected to be released in Friday’s May Revise (which could mean additional cuts);
  • $18.1 million — the amount the school district received from the Rainy Day Fund in 2008-09
  • $24.5 million — the amount the school district received from the Rainy Day Fund in 2009-10;
  • $6 million — the amount the school district expects to receive from the Rainy Day Fund in 2010-11;
  • 502 — number of FTE positions sent preliminary (“March 15”) layoff notices for 2010-11;
  • 348.72 — number of FTE positions to be sent permanent (“May 15”) notices for 2010-11.

Of course, going from 502 to just under 350 is good, but nothing to celebrate over. Once the “conceptual agreement” between the district and UESF is ratified, district staff said, the number of FTEs holding permanent layoff notices should decrease to 195 or so. That’s better, but still not something anyone will feel good about.  Chief Administrative Officer Roger Buschmann told the Board tonight that this number — 195 FTEs holding permanent layoff notices — could go even lower as the summer progresses.

In attendance at tonight’s meeting were many teachers who urged us to say no to all the layoff notices, I guess because they were under the impression that we had a choice.  We didn’t. In the end, five out of the six Commissioners in attendance voted in favor of issuing permanent layoff notices — not because we wanted to or because doing so gives us any kind of tactical advantage, but because it is the only way to keep the district safe from the possibility of state takeover.

The largest contingent of commenters were from El Dorado Elementary, a school that has been disproportionately affected by the current round of layoff notices. I give the El Dorado staff a great deal of credit for shining a hard light on the equity issues that arise when 67% of the teachers and other staff at a hard-to-staff school receive layoff notices. I admire the way they have hung together and supported each other through this stressful year, and I appreciate their ongoing commitment to their students and to their school. They are absolutely right that it makes no sense to give teachers stipends and extra professional development to work at hard-to-staff schools if you are just going to turn around and lay them off a year or two later.

The El Dorado staff is stwrongly under the impression that if the district had made different choices, all the layoffs at their school would be unnecessary. First they said we could have skipped their school with layoff notices (we couldn’t, under state law). Then they said we spent too much money on consultants (really?) Tonight they said the layoffs would have a huge impact on the children who attend their school, and on that I couldn’t agree with them more. Most of us on the Board believe strongly that a great injustice will be done if the El Dorado layoffs stand (I have some hope that they will not, based on the implications of the conceptual agreement between the union and the district).  But it’s simply wrong to say that it would be possible for us to spare El Dorado — or any other school — from the impact of cuts totaling $1,365 per student in just the current year.