Tag Archives: meeting

Get ready: marathon meeting June 14


Yep, that’s the reading material for tomorrow night’s meeting: first reading for the district’s 2016-17 budget and Local Control Accountability Plan, plus the proposed $744 million facilities bond for the November ballot. Up for second reading is the updated Math Placement Policy, P.E policy, and policy for JROTC teacher credentialing and funding.

Tomorrow night’s meeting will be so long I will not likely be able to blog the results of all of the discussion but I wanted to dig in a little to one area: Math Placement Policy, because I’ve received some emails about that.

The updated Math Placement Policy is the district’s response to SB 359, the Math Placement Act of 2015. The Act requires that prior to the 2016-17 school year, districts serving 9th grade students must adopt a fair, objective and transparent math placement policy for pupils entering grade 9. The law is silent on math placement prior to 9th grade. The law was adopted to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to complete the math course sequence necessary for college admissions, and to ensure that students are not disproportionately held back to repeat math courses based on race or ethnicity.

The policy clarifies that all students entering grade 9 will have the option to take CCSS Algebra I — students who fail CCSS Math 8 or receive a D or F in the course will be offered additional support and tutoring. Additionally, students who take coursework covering CCSS Math 8 and CCSS Algebra I before 9th grade with C or better will be allowed to take a math placement test (Math Validation Test, or MVT, in the policy). Passing the MVT will allow these students to take CCSS Geometry in 9th grade.

In addition, within the first month of 9th grade, students placed in CCSS Algebra I (including those who did not pass a previous administration of the MVT) can challenge their placement in the course. If these students have received a C or better in a CCSS Algebra I course and can pass a fall administration of the MVT, these students will be placed in a CCSS Geometry course within a week of passing the MVT.

It’s true that last year, a few students were able to a)pass the MVT and effectively skip CCSS Algebra I to be placed into CCSS Geometry in 9th grade, or, b)take a UC-approved CCSS Algebra I course and place into CCSS Geometry in 9th grade. Under this new policy, students entering 9th grade in 2016-17 will have to do both: take a UC-approved CCSS Algebra I course, either online, or in private school, AND pass the MVT.

I don’t really have a problem with that, because what I really want is for all students to take and pass a Common-Core aligned Algebra I course — I don’t really care whether they do it in private school, online, or in public school, so long as they take it and can pass the course, demonstrating that they’ve learned the material. If public school students choose to take a CCSS Algebra I course prior to 9th grade, that’s fine, but we need to be able to verify, via the MVT, that they learned the material and can demonstrate mastery. I also like that the district is offering an additional opportunity for students to accelerate in 9th grade, through the fall administration of the MVT.

More tomorrow!





A recap, some data and more data

First, a recap: We had a Board meeting last night, August 13. Not much actually happened but we had some very good conversations and comments. Rev. Amos Brown of the NAACP came to remind us that the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will occur on August 28 (read full text here and video appears below):

We introduced the negotiated Project Labor Agreement for first reading — the agreement incorporates the district’s new Local Hire policy for the 2011 facilities bond measure and was completed in record time — hat tip to the Building Trades Council and David Goldin, the district’s Chief Facilities Officer.

We also had a long conversation about the decision to re-bid the district’s security contract, previously held by Securitas and now offered to ABC Security. I don’t know that Board members have strong feelings about the company we bid to — both companies are signatories to an agreement with SEIU to pay union wages and benefits, but there are some concerns that ABC will not honor its obligations under its agreement with SEIU. We do have strong feelings about their employees, whom we know well from their presence at the front desks of 555 Franklin and 135 Van Ness (Johnnie, Vao and colleagues– we’re looking at you!). The upshot of the evening’s discussion was that we will be vigilant that our security guards are being treated fairly, regardless of whether they work for us as employees or on contract.

Commissioner Wynns honored the late Ruth Asawa with a tearful tribute at adjournment,  and Commissioners decided to withdraw a slate of nominees to the Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) oversight committee in order to give staff better guidance about the desired qualifications and diversity of the group. This group is incredibly important as an oversight body for the spending of our parcel tax, and because we have a dedicated and relatively diverse (but parent-heavy) group already in place, we have a bit more time to think more deeply about whether there are specific groups we should be sure are represented (e.g., retired teachers and homeowners, just to name a few).

Second — data. Oh how much data at tonight’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.

A lot of the data is here, in this presentation, so if you are really a geek, download it and pore over it after you read this very brief summary. I have asked for a tape recording of tonight’s meeting and I will eventually (see  * below) post the audio that has all the detail you could possibly want.

* When I request the audio it comes to me on a regular old cassette tape — I had to buy a special digitizer that allows me to convert magnetic audio tape into a digital file. It takes a LONG time to a)get the tape b)find time to convert it and c)edit the file into something you, my loyal blog followers, would actually spend your time listening to. If you hate waiting for info, I suggest you come to committee meetings. The Board attempts to stay on the posted committee meeting schedule , but no meeting is legally scheduled until a notice is posted under the “Upcoming Meetings” column  on the  far right of the school district’s home page.  If you want a transcript, sorry — I can’t help you. 🙂

So — it’s very hard to summarize the  Student Assignment Committee report this evening. The easy parts: There will be some minor changes to the CTIP 1 areas for the 2014-15 enrollment season. Our demographers have incorporated changes to census tracts from the 2010 census, and based on that have been able to refine some of the CTIP 1 census tract areas. Several tracts in the Western Addition and one in the Bayview will be reclassified as non-CTIP1; another tract in the Tenderloin will become a CTIP 1 tract. (Download the presentation — there are detailed block-by-block maps).

I learned more about how we actually determine the “average test score” for each census tract. It’s an average of all scores posted over seven years. So let’s say Student A is enrolled in SFUSD and took the test five out of the seven years averaged, while Student B was enrolled in SFUSD and took the test three out of the seven years averaged. Student C was enrolled in SFUSD and took the test seven out of the seven years averaged. That gives us a total of 15 test scores out of seven years to average — as opposed to three or fewer scores in any given year to average. According to our demographers, they are confident this gives us a less random and more stable average test score figure to use.

When we analyze the people who are using the CTIP preference, it appears that the vast majority are African American and Latino. Based on figures presented this evening, five percent of CTIP 1 applicants are white and nine percent are Chinese. 44 percent are Latino and 25 percent are African-American.

Interestingly, there is one census tract —  230.3, in the Bayview neighborhood (again, look at the presentation — it gives you a detailed map) that has increased so high in achievement that it no longer qualifies as CTIP 1 (or CTIP 2 or 3 for that matter).  Most of the students from that census tract are Chinese students who have chosen schools that are higher-performing than the school they would have been assigned in their neighborhood.

The demographers have also updated their enrollment forecasts to take into account the building boom that San Francisco is currently experiencing. These forecasts predict that we will continue to experience enrollment growth in areas where affordable or below market rate housing is being built — a tiny bit in Mission Bay but mostly in Bayview, Hunters Point and other HOPE SF projects. This is a pattern that –according to our demographers–is visible in most urban areas and/or areas where there is a wide disparity in income –affordable housing yields much more public school enrollment than market rate housing.  By contrast, areas (like suburban areas) that have more income-level homogeneity or uniformly high test scores regardless of income do not exhibit this pattern of public school enrollment. In other words, in areas where test scores are uniformly high, everyone goes to public school, regardless of income. But in areas where there are very affluent and very low-income people, and a corresponding disparity in test scores, people who cannot afford market rate housing go to public school;  people who live in market rate housing either do not have children or do not send those children to public school. I’m curious to hear how families who are “on the bubble” interpret this phenomenon — it’s also important to note that even our demographers admit that their forecasts would be wildly inaccurate should this observed pattern — residents of market rate housing don’t send their children (if they have any) to public school — shift suddenly in San Francisco.  And shouldn’t we want it to? How would we — San Franciscans — make such a shift come about?

Finally, the demographers have uncovered a trend they say is “unprecedented” in their previous analyses of SFUSD data. More high school students are staying in school and fewer are being held back for lack of credits — this will greatly affect our forecasts for high school enrollment in future years. The demographers (and board members in attendance) urged the district to conduct an internal analysis to understand why our high school attendance/enrollment patterns have changed so dramatically in such a short time.

And we have a budget!

Just getting home after a long meeting, but a substantive one: the Board had a lengthy budget discussion and passed the 2013-14 district budget unanimously.  The district will receive $360.58 million in unrestricted general fund revenues and spend $378.424 million, drawing down the beginning balance of $34.102 million to  about $700,000 after the required $15.566 million reserve.

There are a lot of big questions the Board has about the current direction of the district, including:

  • The special education budget is bigger than ever, representing about 25 percent of the general fund when special ed transportation costs are included — Commissioners are increasingly worried that the annual growth in special education spending is unsustainable and asked for more clarity on how the district expects its current investments to pay off in reduced future costs and better academic outcomes. The CAC for Special Education has posted some great analysis and data on its web site;  committee members spoke at the Board meeting and expressed concern that the district’s plan to invest in professional development and coaching for teachers — while needed — might divert too much money away from the classroom. My personal feeling is that while accelerating expenditures are alarming, it’s not time to change course: we have been identified as significantly disproportionate in how we identify students of color for special education, and are now required to spend 15 percent of our Federal special education allocation on interventions in general education. General education teachers desperately need more tools to help students who are struggling achieve, so that special education is not the district’s only safety net for students who aren’t achieving at grade level. Coaching and professional development are the best ways to provide general education teachers with the tools they need. We’ve reduced our spending on out-of-district private school placements for students with disabilities, by almost $5 million since I got on the Board.  But our choice-based student assignment system increases our special education transportation costs, and one of my goals over the next year or two is to look at ways to maintain equitable treatment of students with disabilities in our system while decreasing our exposure on transportation.  Overall, though, I think the request for more clarity in the district’s expectations and strategies for the next few years would be a good thing and I support the need for vigilance in gauging the return on our increasing investments in educating our students with disabilities.
  • One of the Superintendent’s centerpiece initiatives — Multi-Tier Systems of Support, or MTSS–is still confusing for board members and members of the public. Essentially, the initiative seeks to place resources where they are most needed, so that schools that need more supports get more supports even as all schools get a base “package” that includes ample counselors, nurses, librarians and other support staff.  Fully-realizing this vision will take more money than we currently have, but there have been significant investments in the current budget in social workers, counselors and nurses for many schools.  Elementary area teams will now consist of an Assistant Superintendent, and Executive Director, a Family and Community Engagement Specialist, two teachers on special assignment who can provide instructional support to principals and schools, as well as clerical support and a small discretionary budget. The expectation that goes along with this is that area teams will be more effective and proactive at problem-solving so that complaints are less likely to languish and fester. Some Board members worry, however, that this represents a big expansion in central administration, and that it represents a dismantling of site-based autonomy and decision-making.
  • Board members also expressed concerns about the perception that there is a lot of “new money” represented by the passage of Prop. 30 and the state’s rapidly improving economic outlook, and asked where this “new money” could be seen in the budget. The answer to that question is complex, because you first must accept the Superintendent’s argument that we are climbing out of a deep hole represented by the cuts of the last five years (see cartoon below). It helps if you remember the general fund revenues vs. expenditures I cited at the top of this post: even with the “new money” from Prop. 30 and additional taxes, we still expect to spend about $18 million more than we take in in revenues in 2013-14. That $18 million deficit represents people, programs and instructional days that otherwise would have had to be cut in the coming year. The “new money,” is simply helping us climb out of the hole rather than sink deeper:  gasping fish 2
  • The 7-period day for high school: Tonight Commissioner Haney introduced a resolution urging the district to expand A-G qualified course offerings at high schools; the Superintendent introduced a proposal that would lessen the credit requirements for students attending continuation or county high schools. Both resolutions will be discussed in August when the Board reconvenes after its July recess. Most of us agree that our students will have a much easier time meeting the more stringent A-G graduation requirements in place for the Class of 2014 and beyond if we are able to offer a 7-period day, but it’s expensive and Board members wanted to know how the Superintendent proposes to get there.  Similarly, common planning time for teachers is a widely-endorsed way to improve student outcomes, and Vice President Fewer introduced a resolution last summer asking the Superintendent to implement common planning time at all schools by the end of this year. However, the Board has not voted on this resolution as yet because transportation and other logistical issues make it daunting to fund and implement.  Board members also asked how to make common planning time a reality in coming years, given our belief that it is a best practice in improving achievement.

That’s it for now: I’m going fishing for the month of July (metaphorically, not literally.  As my husband likes to say, fishing is boring until you catch a fish–then it’s disgusting. And sorry for all the fishing references).  I’ll start blogging again in August. Happy summer vacation everyone!

Board meeting recap: Sept. 27, 2011

(Advance warning: this post is long – it starts out as a recap of tonight’s board meeting but ends up covering a lot of ground: the current Prop A ballot measure, Transitional Kindergarten, summer school, SOTA admissions and the budget.  Also upcoming plans for a Curriculum Committee discussion on Honors/GATE in middle school. )

The absolute high point of tonight’s meeting was a before-and-after slideshow of schools that have been transformed by the 2003 and 2006 bond work:  Aptos MS has a gorgeous new auditorium; Glen Park ES has a more inviting playground; William Cobb ES, Martin Luther King MS and Wallenberg HS have new classrooms, new outdoor areas, and new entry facades; Civic Center Secondary and Principal’s Center Collaborative have been stripped down, ready for the makeover to bring the buildings into the 21st century (while preserving their historic facades). Most schools got repainted with vibrant colors (compare Cobb’s previous anemic green with its new dark red and white color scheme).

In 2003 and 2006, the voters of San Francisco passed facilities bonds for $295 million and $450 million, respectively.  The 2003 measure paid for upgrades to 30 sites, and was completed on budget and ahead of the deadline of June 30, 2010. The 2006 measure allowed upgrades and improvements to 59 more sites and is currently on time and under budget. Tonight’s presentation showed the results of the programs, clearly as a way to give voters the facts about past efforts –the third and final bond of this cycle is on the November ballot, for $531 million, and will allow the district to complete the work of making the remaining 50 aging buildings accessible to people with disabilities, seismically-safe, and upgraded for 21st-century learning. It’s illegal to use a public meeting or public resources to say it, but since this blog is neither paid for with public resources nor hosted on publicly-owned equipment, I can: The district’s track record with the 2003 and 2006 bonds (and the gorgeous buildings that have resulted) should assuage voters’ fears about supporting the remainder of the cycle. Proposition A has no meaningful opposition (even the Republican party is neutral) and deserves a Yes vote.  Here are resources for more information:

The district also held its annual hearing, as part of the Williams settlement, on the availability of books and supplies for students at every school. Last year was a debacle, for a number of reasons, so it was a pleasure to hear that most students (not all) started school with adequate access to books and supplies. High school science labs and health classrooms at a few schools were not adequately supplied, but most of these issues have since been resolved. In all, this year’s report was a huge improvement over last year’s, thanks to the work of Daisy Santos, the administrator in charge of the district’s supply of textbooks and supplies.

In other news:

  • 96 percent of SFUSD 7th – 12th graders have now received the TDAP vaccine — one of the highest percentages of any school district in California, according to the Superintendent’s report tonight.
  • The Board also passed a resolution commending George Washington High School on 75 years of excellence, on the occasion of its Diamond Jubilee celebration coming up next month.

Committee report

I’ve been meaning to give reports from the Curriculum, Rules and Budget Committees, which I attended last week.

Curriculum: We heard reports on various summer school programs that were implemented across the district, with some data on outcomes.  Thanks to Mayor Lee and the efforts of members of Coleman Advocates and other advocacy organizations, the City contributed $250,000 towards academic summer programs for credit recovery after large numbers of 9th graders failed core courses required under the district’s new A-G graduation requirements.  Here are highlights from the report given by Assistant Superintendent Janet Schulze to the Committee:

  • Approximately 25 percent of SFUSD 9th graders took part in a credit-earning summer program;
  • 90 percent of students taking English 1 or 2 received credit, with 79 percent receiving an A, B or C grade;
  • 94 percent of students taking Biology 1 or 2 received credit, with 79 percent receiving an A, B or C grade;
  • 88 percent of students taking Algebra 1 or 2 received credit, with 70 percent receiving an A, B or C grade.

Lincoln High School combined its city funding with site funds, and offered programs for all entering 9th graders, as well as older students who needed to gain credits to stay on a graduation track. Principal Barnaby Payne was on hand to talk about the program and pronounced it such a success that the school intends to fund the program again next year. 

The Curriculum committee also heard a presentation on the district’s planning for Transitional Kindergarten, the state’s new program to both raise the eligibility age for Kindergarten, while offering students with Fall birthdays a transitional program that blends pre-K and K to allow those younger students to progress at a different pace than older students.  The district is proposing to either a)place transitional K students in regular K classrooms but allow those students to stay for two years, with additional Professional Development and programming specifically for them; or b)set up standalone Transitional K classrooms that would house students for two years and then allow them to “graduate” to first grade at other schools.

Staff is recommending the first approach, but both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, cost impacts and unintended consequences for student assignment. The Committee was disturbed enough by the trade-offs in each proposal to recommend a hearing by the full board, as soon as possible. The current plan is to hear a presentation and gather Board input at the Oct. 11 Board meeting.

Rules: The topic of most general interest was an inquiry on the current policy and data on out-of-district students attending Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  Very few people know that Ruth Asawa (SOTA) is allowed to accept 10 percent of its enrollment from out-of-district applicants, since it was originally conceived as a regional arts high school. In many ways, this works out well for everyone — the school is able to draw from a larger pool of talent (useful when you need, for example, a tuba player for Orchestra, or male dancers to partner their female counterparts); students in other districts are able to access an incredibly rigorous and professional arts-focused high school (see this Chronicle article about dancer Darius Drooh for an illustration of how SOTA’s out of district policy enhances both the school and individual lives). No one would argue (especially not me) that the arts achievements of SOTA students aren’t exceptional — they are, and the school is a credit to the school district.

Still, I would by lying if I said that the out-of-district enrollment is OK with me. I’m glad we attempt to make the school’s offerings available to a broader swath of students through the Academy program, which is co-located with SOTA and does not require students to audition or demonstrate artistic ability (it also does not accept out-of-district students unless there are fewer SF applicants than seats). Still, SOTA’s out-of-district enrollment policy makes me uncomfortable, especially after the Board received data that currently SOTA is currently enrolling somewhere closer to 15 percent out-of-district students (we do receive funding for these students from their home districts so this policy is not so much a money issue — it’s an access/equity issue). I had a long conversation with SOTA’s  principal, Carmelo Sgarlato, about this state of affairs, and after that conversation I understood better that the implementation of enrollment policies are more complex than they  appear. Many SF students initially accepted to SOTA end up choosing other comprehensive high schools where they can play sports and have access to a broader array of classes (my nephew is one of them – he’s a talented trumpet player but ended up attending Lowell so that he could run track and play soccer).   In addition, SOTA departments have different capacities — Dance is always looking for boys but Creative Writing is usually fully-subscribed. Lots of students play trumpet, violin and clarinet, but fewer play the tuba.

Still, 15 percent is not acceptable, and I let Mr. Sgarlato know I feel that way. At the Rules committee, Board members in general expressed alarm and asked whether we need to “tighten up” on the policy.  Right now, I hear clearly that SOTA faculty wants to remain in control of the school’s audition-related admissions, but the Board’s reality is that the percentage of out-of-district students must come back in line or (I’m guessing) the school risks losing this flexibility altogether.

Budget:  Remember how I said we would be closely watching the state’s monthly announcement of tax receipts to see how likely it is that the “budget trigger” will be pulled, yanking the rug out from under schools? Yeah. August wasn’t very good — a bit better than July but on target for revenues to come in almost $600 million under what had been “speculatively” anticipated.  If that shortfall gets to $2 billion, schools are in big trouble. We have three more months to make up the difference.

Coming up: On October 3 at 5:30, the Curriculum Committee will start the discussion on GATE and Honors in middle school. I don’t believe we will receive full data on outcomes or research, but it is an opportunity for members of the public to come and ask questions/share views on the district’s honors/GATE policy and offerings. This is a long, complex and sometimes emotional topic that will not be resolved in one meeting– it may ultimately require a full Board policy but we are not there yet. Anyway, I’m sharing this specifically because I know from the input I receive from constituents that there is a lot of interest/strong feelings on this topic, and I’m trying to begin the discussion.

Recap: National Board Certification, Edison, afterschool and the budget

Tonight’s regular Board meeting began on a high note with the public recognition of 33 teachers who have achieved National Board Certification this year — bringing the grand total of National Board Certified Teachers in SFUSD to 200, or about five percent of our teaching corps. This is second only to LAUSD in total numbers, but in percentage terms only about three percent of LAUSD teachers are National Board Certified. This is rightly a source of great pride for the district. Becoming a National Board Certified Teacher is a very rigorous process, and a tremendous achievement for an individual teacher.

The next major item on the agenda was the renewal of Edison Charter Academy’s charter. This charter has something of a tortured history in SFUSD — old timers might recall that the Board actually revoked Edison’s charter when it came up a decade ago. At that time, Edison was run by the for-profit chain Edison Schools Inc., which promptly appealed the revocation with the California State Board of Education. Their appeal was granted, so over the last eight or so years SFUSD has not had much of a relationship with Edison other than a facilities use agreement for the school’s large facility on 21st and Dolores (coincidentally the former Thomas Edison Elementary school). Last year, the Edison Charter Academy board formally severed its relationship with the for-profit Edison Schools, and came before the SFUSD Board as an independent community-based charter seeking renewal.

At the Curriculum Committee last week, Commissioner Maufas and I voted to give the Edison petition a positive recommendation to the full board, largely because of the school’s record of achievement (Commissioner Wynns voted against the recommendation). But at the Budget Committee, significant deficiencies were found with the petition, with the committee eventually voting to recommend denial. After reviewing the committees’ recommendations as well as the staff recommendation to deny the petition, the Board voted unanimously not to renew Edison’s charter — renewal would have given the school another five years of operation. The petitioners now have the option of resubmitting their petition as a new petition, or appealing the decision to the State Board. In the past the State Board has been very quick to grant charters, but the composition has changed since Gov. Brown appointed new members last month, so a charter appeal may no longer be a slam dunk.

We heard a presentation on 2011-12 budget development from Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh, with the upshot being that there is still a great deal of uncertainty for K-12 education. The Governor has proposed a “best case” scenario budget that would involve cuts of perhaps $19 per ADA, or about $1 million, for SFUSD (remember that our staff salaries and benefit costs are increasing every year, so the failure to keep track with those costs will require additional cuts on top of that $1 million just to stay in place).  The “best case” assumes that the voters will pass a package of tax increases and extensions on June 7, but that’s a big IF — to even put the measures on the ballot, two-thirds of the Legislature would have to agree. Then, of course, a majority of voters would have to actually vote yes.  The “worst case” could require additional cuts of $330 per ADA — or about $20 million all in.

As district staff prepare for either scenario, they are warning us to expect significant numbers of district staff to receive layoff notices this spring. Hopefully we will be able to rescind most of those, but things are just too uncertain to know right now. Deputy Superintendent Leigh said the staff will be looking at ways to mitigate the effects of layoffs on particular schools or communities — a recent ACLU lawsuit against LAUSD may have given the school district some additional flexibility in this area.

We heard an informational presentation on out-of-school  programming and planning for increasing capacity and quality of afterschool options for public school students; also a short update on the district’s plan to create a K-8 program at the Horace Mann Academic Middle School site by bringing Buena Vista Elementary to the school and combining it with the existing middle school program. The school will retain the Horace Mann name, but discussions are underway about how to integrate the Buena Vista name into the school somehow.

Public comment:

We heard from a number of current parents at Fairmount Elementary who do not support the newest middle school feeder plan announced on Feb. 1, which would feed Fairmount into Everett Middle School.  Parents argued that Lick MS — where Fairmount would have fed based on the original plan unveiled by the district last August — makes much more sense geographically; also, they said many Fairmount students currently attend Lick and the two schools share a community connection.

We also heard from several teachers and parents at Bret Harte Elementary, who are alarmed by unspecified rumors about their school’s future. The teachers and parents were particularly critical of communication and community engagement in the Superintendent’s Zone, complaining that decision-making has been top-down and that the district has failed to reach out to parents as part of its effort to improve educational options in the Bayview.

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.

Recap: A sad but resolute board passes budget action plan

In the end, it was unanimous, but heading into tonight’s meeting I felt real anxiety about how the debate and final vote on the Superintendent’s Budget Deficit Action Plan would play out. For one thing, members of United Educators of San Francisco, San Francisco Organizing Project (SFOP) and various parent groups spent the past week peppering Board members with increasingly desperate pleas to slow down the plan and address budget alternatives in detail. For another, at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting on the plan, several Board members seemed inclined to vote against the plan outright, while others appeared undecided.  Muddying the waters was an alternate budget proposal from SFOP’s Children’s Allocation Team (CAT), which they said would cut $113 million over two years through across-the-board cuts to centralized budget functions, sparing class sizes and other labor concessions.

I was concerned enough to go to the Superintendent late last week and ask him whether he would consider putting off a vote on the plan for two weeks. I wasn’t worried so much about the need for the Board to sign off on a prospective budget framework, and I also agreed it was important for us to approve such a framework sooner rather than later, in order to help school sites start planning for next year and offer our employees more clarity about whether they will have a job next year. But the level of uncertainty I saw in Board members and among members of the public made me worry that perhaps we were moving too fast, and that we hadn’t truly considered all the alternatives.

Continue reading

Important changes to the student assignment proposal

UPDATE: Here is the presentation from the Feb. 24 meeting and an updated version of the Superintendent’s proposal for a new student assignment system.

At tonight’s meeting of the student assignment redesign committee, several important changes to the Superintendent’s proposal were suggested and accepted by Commissioners in attendance (committee members Wynns, Mendoza and Kim, and invited Commissioners Norton, Yee and Maufas. Commissioner Fewer was absent). These changes are:

  • The Superintendent suggested an amendment to the proposed policy to introduce a one-month public comment period on the proposed attendance area maps before they are accepted by the Board and implemented as part of the new student assignment policy. This would give community members a chance to see the maps and comment on them before they are formally incorporated into the policy. No timeframe for the maps to be released was specified, but the policy must be fully implemented by November 2010. Presumably, the maps would be available for public inspection by September at the very latest.
  • The Superintendent also proposed amending the CTIP definitions as follows: CTIP 1 would now comprise the 20% of census tracts with the lowest average scores on the California Standards Test (CST); CTIP 2 would comprise the 80% of census tracts with the highest average scores on the CST. A map of average CST scores, by census tract, appears below (the dark green areas are the new areas proposed for CTIP 1, and the light green areas PLUS the dark green areas are the PREVIOUSLY proposed CTIP 1 areas. Dark purple, lavender, and light blue are CTIP 2 areas; the new proposal would add the light green areas to CTIP 2. To make this crystal clear, download this larger image, containing a key (and also Treasure Island, which I cropped from the image below):
  • The final change was proposed by Commissioner Wynns and found acceptable by Board members in attendance.  For elementary school, CTIP 1 preference would now come higher than local preference, and the policy would also contain language establishing a reciprocal preference for residents of CTIP 2 areas who want to attend CTIP 1 schools.  Board members liked this approach, after assurances from Orla O’Keeffe that flip-flopping CTIP 1 and local preference in the policy proposal would have little effect on school composition, but would give residents of the most underserved areas additional preference to attend higher-performing schools. In combination with the above proposal (to shrink the CTIP 1 preference area to the lowest performing 20% of census tracts), Board members felt the adjustment would better align the policy with what we heard from the PAC and Parents for Public Schools during the community engagement effort.

We also had a lengthy discussion about special education. It continues to frustrate me that the staff is talking about “service areas” and creating a parallel system for students with disabilities. The law is clear: whenever possible, students should attend the schools they would have attended if not disabled; if their individual needs can be served more appropriately at another school, then the district may offer them another placement. In any event, the district is obligated to offer students with disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) — defined as: receiving an education, to the maximum extent appropriate, with nondisabled peers and remaining in  regular classes unless, even with supplemental aids and services, education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

The problem is that the district is maintaining that putting special education students through a “separate but equal” kind of lottery is adequate to meet these legal requirements. I disagree, as do most other special education parents and their advocates. In other school districts, offers of placement are generally made at IEP meetings (an IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, developed by a team of general educators, special educators, parents and any other persons knowledgeable about the child’s educational needs — the “IEP team”).  In San Francisco, parents receive a “program” offer — e.g., inclusion or a special day class — and then an opaque and highly secretive school district process determines the actual school where the program is delivered.

I am instead advocating for a simple sentence to be included in the district’s new student assignment policy under the “Special Education” heading: For students in special education, school and program placements will be determined by the IEP team. 

Delving into the student assignment proposal: recap

I’m pretty much whacked after tonight’s three-hours plus meeting and lots of new information. Essentially, the board got an opportunity to hear much more detail about the staff’s proposal for a new student assignment system, but I have to say that the presentation left me with more questions than answers.

Let me start by saying that there are a lot of things I like about the proposal, from a simplicity perspective and from a predictability perspective. I think it will make many more families happy than our current system does, at least those applying for elementary school. I like that it uses slightly different mechanisms for K, 6 and 9th grade assignment, taking into account the different needs of students and families at each level. I *love* the emphasis the system places on simplicity and non-wastefulness (in other words, creating a simple system that is user-friendly and works best when people are honest about what they want). I like that it is flexible and can be “tweaked” in various ways to maximize particular outcomes (e.g., diversity in schools).

But I’m worried that the proposal relies too much on forcing students in lower-income neighborhoods — many of whom now choose schools that are far away from those neighborhoods — to attend their local schools, hoping that we will improve the system on their backs. That doesn’t seem fair, even though I know that increased enrollment and involved parents (the ones who opt for different school choices out of their neighborhoods!) are all we need to make schools like Visitacion Valley Middle School really soar.

70 percent of public school families in Bayview-Hunters Point choose schools outside their neighborhood, and what this proposal would do is instead give them strong incentives to stay closer to home (and remove the current incentive the choice system gives them to leave). The influx of new, more empowered and aware parents will almost certainly lift achievement at the schools in the Bayview, but only after the first class or two of “pioneers” is forced by lack of other choices to enroll. Again, does that seem fair? Any fairer than forcing families to leave their neighborhoods through a busing-based policy?

The answer to this problem is supposed to be the CTIP — Census Tract Integration Preference (which desperately, desperately needs rebranding, but I’m too tired to come up with any alternatives).  CTIP is derived by calculating the average score on the California Standards Test (CST) for each census tract in San Francisco (there are about 150 census tracts city-wide). The census tracts are then arranged from highest average score to lowest average score, and divided into quintiles (fifths). The highest three quintiles are designated as CTIP 2; the lowest two quintiles are designated as CTIP 1.  CTIP 1 students do receive some level of priority in the process, higher or lower depending on whether those students are applying to high school, middle school or elementary school. In the end, CTIP 1 is supposed to “level the playing field” for students who are educationally-disadvantaged based on where they live.

I don’t have the stamina to go into all the ways CTIP and local preference interact at the elementary, middle and high school levels, but essentially local preference is highest at the elementary school level and nonexistent at the high school level.  The worry I have is whether we should be giving CTIP 1 preference a higher level throughout, if it would have a stronger impact on diversifying schools and better level the playing field for the students whose achievement we are most concerned about. On the other hand, elementary school is the time when families most value local preference, and so perhaps it makes sense to maximize that preference as families are entering kindergarten.

I was somewhat nonplussed to realize that for all the talk about simplicity, this program is just as difficult to explain as the current diversity index. There are fewer variables, and once you get to the end users — parents — the form is greatly simplified and intuitive. All you have to do is fill out your real address and list any number of schools, from your attendance area school to any other school,  in the order you truly like them.  But to really understand how the various “preferences” from sibling, to pre-K, to local, to CTIP interact,  it gets much more complicated. I’ll try to post some of that information tomorrow, but for now, I’m off to bed.

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