School Beat: Funding Our Future Town Hall, Thursday February 25th

by Lisa Schiff on February 24, 2010

San Francisco parents struggling against persistent and massive cuts to education budgets may have finally reached their limit. A half dozen moms have taken matters into their own hands and organized a Funding Our Future town hall meeting Thursday, February 25, 2010; 6:30-8:30 at Marina Middle School (3500 Fillmore St.). The goal of the event is to start looking for solutions to this long-term financial crisis, not to talk about how to deal with the new cuts that schools feel certain they will be facing. With over 1,000 people expected to attend, the event appears to be tapping into widespread collective frustration and concern over school budgets.

Citing potential cuts next year of up to a devastating $1,300 per student, noting that California is now 47th in per pupil spending compared to other states, and with up to 900 first-round pink slips about to be sent to district employees, these parents feel that it is time to bring the experts together to begin to strategize on long-term local and statewide solutions. As a first step, they have organized tomorrow’s two hour panel discussion and Q&A session, moderated by Michael Krasny, host of KQED’s well-known “Forum” radio show. Panelists, who will bring local and statewide financial, policy and political knowledge to the discussion, include:

Mark Leno and Leland Yee, California State Senators

Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma, California State Assembly Members

David Chiu, President, SF Board of Supervisors

Jane Kim, President, SF Board of Education

Carlos Garcia, Superintendent of Schools, SFUSD

Also available for the discussion will be special guests:

Terry Bergeson, Executive Director of the SF School Alliance

Dennis Kelly, President of the United Educators of SF

Jim Lazarus, SF Chamber of Commerce

Debbie Look, State Legislative Director of the California PTA

Mary Perry, Deputy Director, Ed Source.

Event organizers report that panelists have been very responsive and supportive of the event, which may reflect that elected officials see the need for a deeper political base from which to address education funding issues. Indeed, material put forth leading up to Thursday has clearly indicated that a primary goal for town hall is not simply to increase understanding about financial situation, but rather to jump start the process of creating a strong parent lobby and advocacy effort that is grassroots in nature and potentially statewide in scope.

While ensuring adequate funding at the local and state level is the target these San Francisco parents have in mind, the specific formulation of what that might look like and what the best type of parent organization should be to help bring it to fruition is not yet clear. That, the parents say, is what they are working on right now. The expertise exists, as exemplified in the chosen panelists for the Town Hall. The next step is for parents to have a better understanding of the various possible solutions and the most effective roles that parents could play in bringing change about.

Recognizing the need for a movement that is equally inclusive of parents from all parts of California, organizers have already been in early, informal discussions with parents from other districts who share the frustrations over funding. Presumably then, Thursday’s event will be the first of many throughout the state.

Setting the stage for such statewide action is the Public Education Day of Action next Thursday (March 4th), when parents, students, teachers, administrators and others will be rallying to demand more support for public education. School communities in San Francisco are organizing a variety of events throughout the day, coming together in the late afternoon at a 4:30pm rally with UESF at the State Building at 505 Van Ness, from where there will be a march to the Civic Center at 5pm.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco and the PTA and is a board member at the national level of Parents for Public Schools.

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