Tag Archives: meeting

Tonight’s student assignment meeting should be interesting!

Tonight’s meeting of the Board’s ad-hoc Committee on Student Assignment should be interesting stuff (the agenda is posted here). We are scheduled to hear a presentation from a group of researchers from Harvard, Duke MIT and Stanford (the same group that presented in October on various choice mechanisms).  Tonight’s presentation will focus on the results of simulations conducted on the six options currently being explored by the Board, using Round I and Round II request data from earlier years. I’ve seen a draft of the presentation — it’s very information-dense, and comes to some interesting conclusions.  (Update: the presentation is now posted).

In addition, we’ll hear the preliminary results of a qualitative study conducted by Stanford researcher Prudence Carter. Professor Carter’s study is based on interviews conducted with students, teachers and administrators at 24 schools across the district.

It’s important to note here that we have received tremendous financial and logistical support for this whole redesign effort — from local foundations like the Hellman Family Foundation and the Zellerbach Foundation, from Stanford University,  and other funders like the Council of Great City Schools, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the U.S. Department of Education. Given the current budget crisis, this level of thoughtful and careful analylsis would have been impossible without the help we’ve received from these groups.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street. The meeting will also be televised locally on SFGTV (Channels 26 or 78) and streamed online at the SFGTV web site.  Meetings are usually archived here after 24-48 hours.

Projected SFUSD budget gap takes a turn for the worse

The hardy souls who stayed until the end of tonight’s four-hour-plus Budget committee meeting got a special treat: a budget update from Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh and Budget Director Reeta Madhaven. The punch line? The district’s two-year projected budget shortfall for 2010-11 and 2011-12 now stands at $113 million.

That’s just an unimaginable number, representing a cut of over $1,000 per student for each of the next two years.  Deputy Supt. Leigh offered some “possible responses” to this crisis, including:

  • Cutting back summer school programs to save $4.6 million;
  • Reducing general education transportation to save $1.5 million;
  • Increasing class size (increasing by one student per grade saves $500,000 a year);
  • Suspending teacher sabbaticals (currently costing $2 million a year);
  • Freezing “step & column” increases (bargained wage increases that kick in at various levels of service) – these increases currently cost about $4.9 million a year;
  • Furloughs (another way of saying shortening the school year) – each day per employee saves about $2.25 million;
  • Repurposing FY 2008-09 Prop A funds set aside for additional instructional/staff development days for use in the General Fund (approximately $15 million);
  • Suspend or reduce Advanced Placement prep period allocations (schools get a certain amount of “prep” periods for teachers who take on AP courses) – probably saves $1 – $2 million;
  • Cutting Tier III categorical programs (programs that are targeted for specific students but newly allowed by the state to be “flexible” revenues), PEEF “third-third” and overall central office budgets by up to $40 million.

A back of the envelope calculation shows that even if we swallowed hard and did ALL of the above (assuming a class size  increase of one  student in grades K-3 and a one day staff furlough), we still don’t get anywhere near $113 million. Fasten your seat belts, folks — things are going to get very bumpy.

What a night!

Well, I have to hand it to Commissioner Kim, who led her first meeting as the newly-elected Board President. (Commissioner Mendoza was elected VP). The agenda was incredibly long, but somehow we adjourned just after 10:30 p.m.

Still, tonight was one of those meetings that felt full of drama. The meeting opened with the annual tasks of electing new Board leadership and re-adopting the Board rules, then the awards and commendations we do at every meeting. There were a large number of people waiting to speak on the district’s Ethnic Studies pilot program, and another large group waiting to talk about the Superintendent’s recommendation regarding the locations of the General Education and Montessori programs at Cobb Elementary.

The Ethnic Studies group went first, discussing the importance of including Ethnic Studies as a 9th grade social studies course. The proposal for the pilot would create the two-semester class at five high schools; many students came to tell us they found the proposed class to be more relevant to their experience than other history courses they had taken. Teachers also stressed the importance of connecting history to the actual life experiences of our students. The underlying idea behind the pilot would be to empower students who come from marginalized groups, and address the lack of a 9th grade history course, and lackluster scores in the 10th grade California Standards Test in World History. It has a community service component and a course of study that examines the role of race, ethnicity and culture in history.  The Superintendent told us he is still examining the plans for the pilot and will bring us a proposal in the coming months, one that aligns the $300,000 proposed cost with our strategic plan and our new A-G graduation requirements.

But the big news of the night was the fate of the Cobb General Education and Montessori programs. Families in both programs have been in agony in recent months, uncertain whether their school would survive what best resembles a contentious divorce. Originally, the district placed the Montessori program at Cobb in an effort to offer an innovative curriculum to the school’s predominantly African-American students. But the program never caught on with the Cobb families, perhaps because it wasn’t what they wanted or perhaps because the engagement of the African American community was flawed.  The issue came to a head when the district’s Program Placement committee approved a plan to expand the Pre-K Montessori program into a full Pre-K through 5th grade program — a plan which called for phasing out the General Education program at Cobb.

At that point, the General Education teachers cried foul. While there were attempts to inform and engage the broader Cobb community about the Montessori plans, in retrospect those attempts were not enough, and mixed messages were sent. The community organized around the General Education program, and the rest is history.

There was no ideal solution before the Board tonight. Over the past few months, I’ve been convinced by the robust community support that we should give the Cobb General Ed program more of a chance.  And yet I’ve remained a strong supporter of Montessori and our efforts to bring a high-quality program to our public schools.  Still, the divisions between the two communities were so deep, and so bitter, it became increasingly clear that they could not co-exist on the same campus. And in any event, Cobb is scheduled for construction next year, so it physically would not have space for both programs.

What made the decision worse was a long-overdue fiscal analysis of the costs of both programs. While Cobb GE is currently under-enrolled, a relatively small increase in enrollment would keep the school fiscally viable. Montessori, on the other hand, costs more money to operate because the model requires more adults in the classroom than a traditional program — a fact that Board members realized we were not clear on until now.  In addition, moving either program would cost the district additional money.

In the end, the Board voted 6-1 to keep Cobb’s General Education program where it is and move Montessori, on a temporary basis, to the district’s Jackson St. property six blocks away (at an estimated cost of $235,000). There was discussion of “fiscal irresponsibility” by opening up a new school, but any solution that involved moving a program would have cost us money — and there was no other site the staff could identify that would be able to accommodate seven classrooms on the ground floor (required under fire codes for students younger than 7 years old).  In any event, part of the point of keeping the Montessori program is that it is wildly popular, with a long waiting list. If it ends up boosting overall enrollment in the district, we will probably come close to recouping those costs.  On the other hand, if we continue to hem and haw every year about where the program should be located, that would take away from its popularity.

Still, I’m hoping we learned something about planning and community engagement from this experience.  We shouldn’t just plop programs down in schools that didn’t ask for them or participate in the program placement decisions. And district staff needs to be much clearer with each other and with the Board about the potential costs of new programs.

There is, however, much to be happy about. The Cobb GE community should be proud of the strong advocacy they did for their program, and I look forward to seeing them take it to the next level. And the Montessori parents can breathe easier, looking forward to a fresh start in a new site next year. Hopefully, we will be able to craft a longer-term solution before June so that this program, too, has a sense that its future is secure.

The ‘race’ is on: SFUSD will apply for race to the top funds

At tonight’s Special Meeting, the Board formally approved the Superintendent’s request to execute and submit a Memorandum of Understanding with the state that will formally enter us in the running for “Race to the Top” funds.  People are dubious about the reform framework the Federal government has outlined, and even more unhappy with some of the extras (like the open enrollment provision and the so-called “parent trigger”) tacked on by the state legislature, but for now there’s no reason not to apply for the funds. Our legal counsel advised us that we can back out of the competition at any time if we see too many unpleasant strings attached; at the same time it’s pretty clear that the school reform agenda outlined in Race to the Top is coming to every school district and every state sooner or later — sometime next year the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, the new name of NCLB) will be reauthorized and it is expected to have the same policy components.

In other news, the Board was briefed on a draft proposal from the Mayor’s office, which seeks to free up much-needed revenues in the City budget by putting a revenue measure on a future ballot (possibly as early as June).  Currently, as most people know, SFUSD gets $40 million a year from the City’s general fund through the set-aside in Prop. H, also known as the “Public Education Enrichment Fund.” Of that $40 million, $2o million is earmarked for sports, libraries, arts and music (the so-called “SLAM” portion of the fund); the remaining $20 million (called the “third-third”) can be used for any educational purpose.  There is also another third — an additional $20 million — that goes to First Five to be used for early childhood education.

The Mayor’s office is proposing a ballot measure that would raise $40 million through some kind of parcel tax. Half of that money would relieve the City’s obligation for either the SLAM or third-third portion of the fund; the other half would represent new money for the school district’s general fund.  I can’t stress enough that this is just a trial balloon, and there are many, many more questions than answers. For example, what would happen to the other parts of the PEEF when the fund expires in 2014-15? And, could such a measure pass? Parcel taxes have to pass by a two-thirds majority, while reauthorizing Prop. H (which was originally passed as an amendment to the City’s charter) would only require a simple majority.

The Board acknowledged all the questions and uncertainties but agreed that the Superintendent should keep exploring this option, if only because the City so desperately needs revenue, and it would be unneighborly to refuse to consider this latest idea to free up some of the obligations on the City’s general fund.  Commissioner Wynns agreed to bring this topic to the Budget Committee for further discussion later in the month — tentatively January 19.

Budget meeting recap: 12/15

Tonight’s budget meeting was supposed to be short! It wasn’t. Lots of public comment, particularly on a proposal from the Superintendent to raise the limit for administrative approval of contracts to $25,000 from $8,000. According to state law, school districts can allow Superintendents to “administratively approve” (meaning, approve without prior approval from the Board) contracts up to a value of $76,000. The argument in favor of doing this is that the vast majority of contracts are routine, so cutting down the number of contracts requiring Board scrutiny would save everybody time. The argument against is that remaining handful of contracts that appear routine but aren’t.

Retroactive contracts of any amount would still have to go to the Board for approval, as would any contract for an amount over $25,000. All administratively approved contracts would have to be reported on a monthly basis to the Board (a current rule but one that is not always followed).

Committee members asked for additional safeguards in the policy (listed below), and referred the proposal back to the full board with no recommendation, pending amendments. This should hit the agenda at the January 12th meeting (along with Board leadership elections and other burning issues.) The requested amendments were:

  • Add language so that multiple contracts to the same person, whether they are delivering a service at one site or multiple sites, would require board approval after the total amount paid hit $25,000;
  • Originally, the Superintendent had proposed raising the admininstrative approval limit to $25,000 effective immediately, and then raising it to the state’s limit of $76,000 as of July 2010. Instead, Board members requested that the Board review the new policy before automatically raising the limit again in July;
  • Ensure that reports on all administratively approved contracts are given to every Board member during the first week of every month.

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Recap: June 9 Board meeting

(Updated 6/11/09 to clarify several points and expand descriptions of board actions on June 9).

By now everyone pretty much knows the major news from last night’s meeting — the Board passed a resolution amending the district’s independent study policy to include students taking a JROTC course, allowing them to satisfy physical education requirements through independent study. I’ve posted thoughts about this issue here, and here, and here, so really — ’nuff said.  (For those completely new to this protracted policy fight, the district has helpfully posted a fact sheet).

In fact, the action item from last night that will affect FAR more students, staff and families is the approval of a new calendar for the 2010-11 school year and beyond.  I have received a lot of mail, mostly from elementary school parents, questioning this move — which basically starts school a week earlier, fixes spring break to occur always in the final week of March, and ends school just before Memorial Day weekend in May. Since I have two children in elementary school, I get the objections, but I need to point out that there are some real benefits for students in middle and high school — primarily because our calendar will now align with those of City College, where many high school students take additional courses, and because middle and high school students will now be able to complete their final exams before winter break. An additional benefit for all students (but not the reason the Superintendent recommended the change) is that more instruction will occur before the state testing in late April. Dennis Kelly, the President of United Educators of San Francisco, testified that 55 percent of his membership have also indicated a willingness to try out the new calendar proposal, which was also a persuasive fact for me.

My main ongoing concern is that community organizations which provide summer programming–like the YMCA, the JCC and many others–get enough notice and resources in order to completely realign their offerings to support families for whom summer camp is essential childcare. I have been assured that this is happening, and will be checking in on this over the next year.

We also received a report from the Bilingual Community Council (BCC), a Board-appointed committee that oversees the district’s services to English Learners. The BCC is mandated as part of the settlement of Lau v. Nichols, a 1974 Supreme Court decision that established certain guidelines for educating students with limited English skills; it is a separate body from the District’s English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC)–a district-level advisory committee. Basically, each school with 21 or more English Learners enrolled must have an ELAC; each ELAC must send a representative to the District ELAC, called DELAC. And under Lau, the Board must appoint, and listen to the recommendations of, a BCC.

Anyway, of primary concern to theBCC are procedures and services of the Educational Placement Center and support of ELACs.  Board members asked that the BCC provide a list of recommendations each year so that we can be held accountable on our progress toward implementing better supports and services for English Learners.

Also of note:

  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution authored by myself and Commissioner Fewer calling for the establishment of a joint committee with City College of San Francisco to discuss issues of mutual interest;
  • The 2009-10 district’s budget was introduced for first reading but due to the late hour we opted not to hear the full presentation until the augmented Budget Committee hearing on June 16. For interested community members, there will also be a workshop on the 2009-10 budget on June 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at James Lick Middle School;
  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution calling for the second annual Soda Free Summer.

Feb. 24 full Board meeting

As expected, on Tuesday evening the Board voted to issue 506 preliminary layoff notices — 144 to administrators with contracts expiring this year, and 362 to probationary teachers. This was the hardest vote by far that I’ve had to take on the Board and it was made all the more sour by the fact that it may be unnecessary: if the City does the right math and lets the schools draw 25 percent of the current balance of the Rainy Day Fund, we will be able to rescind all of the notices we voted to issue.

tevana_americaOne bright spot was the special and jaw-droppingly amazing performance of “America the Beautiful” by Tavana Faataui, an 8th grader at Visitacion Valley Middle School . “American Idol” here we come! Watch the first five minutes of the meeting to see this amazing performer. Ms. Faataui and a few other students from Visitacion Valley MS will be performing with Paul McCartney at Radio City Music Hall in April.

Also of note was an eye-popping report by Mr. Hoover Liddell from the Superintendent’s Race and Racism Working Group. Mr. Liddell, who has for many years monitored the district’s progress towards desegregation and equitable distribution of resources, presented figures that many of us have seen before and yet they are no less shocking when you see them for the 5th, 10th or 15th time. For example:

  • Of the African American students who entered the ninth grade in 2003 in an SFUSD high school, only 31.8 percent received an SFUSD diploma four years later in 2007. By comparison, the district-wide percentage during that period was 62.8.
  • African-American and Latino students represent 75% of the students suspended, 80% of the students in the juvenile justice system, 54% of the students in special education, 68% of truant students, and 75% of the students enrolled in the lowest performing elementary schools.
  • By contrast, African-American and Latino students represent 8 percent of the students enrolled in the highest performing elementary schools, 9 percent of students taking Advanced Placement exams, 10 percent of students attending Lowell High School and 13% of students in the Gifted and Talented program.

Board meeting: January 27

Tonight in a nutshell:

  • We approved the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) spending plan in time to forward it across the street to the Board of Supervisors, with one amendment: an additional $150,000 out of reserves to fund a full-time grant writer — a position that we hope will pay for itself and then some.

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Changes to the “Prop. H” Committee

I must get into the habit of using the correct name for the advisory committee for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (the fund approved by S.F. voters in 2004 that transfers money from the City’s general fund to the schools for sports, libraries, arts, music and other uses). It is the “PEEF CAC” but for some reason, most people still seem to refer to it as the “Prop H Committee.”

Anyway. Tonight the Board met as a Committee of the Whole (which means we meet as a body but cannot vote on anything) to discuss a resolution authored by former Board President Mark Sanchez and current Board President Kim-Shree Maufas. This resolution would greatly clarify and focus the committee’s mission, which in some years has been so unclear that it brought the Superintendent’s priorities in direct conflict with the Committee’s, and left the Board in the uncomfortable position of choosing which recommendations it would adopt.

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The first full meeting!

boardstaffTonight was the first regularly scheduled meeting of the full Board in 2009, with a very fat agenda. Here are the highlights:

  • Congratulations to Commissioners Kim-Shree Maufas and Jane Kim, who were elected President and Vice President of the Board, respectively, by acclamation. Commissioner Wynns nominated Commissioner Maufas for President and Commissioner Fewer nominated Commissioner Kim for Vice President. Continue reading