School Beat: Give Arnold a Pink Slip

by Lisa Schiff on December 24, 2008

First published on March 13, 2008.

My daughter’s teacher was one of the 500-plus who received pink slips this month, preliminary notices that by law must be sent out by a certain date if layoffs are likely given budget forecasts for the upcoming year. This teacher, like so many in our district and so many who received those slips, is dedicated to and passionate about his work. His enthusiasm for teaching inspires the kids in his classroom to stretch themselves, knowing he is right there supporting them along the way.

Teachers like this are the lynchpin of a good educational system, but they are being put in jeopardy by our governor who persists in showing such disdain for the children in public schools and the educational professionals who serve them. Despite increasing pressure from the public and Democratic officials in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger still sees our schools as a major solution to his $16 billion fiscal crisis.

Children in San Francisco are somewhat luckier than others thanks to the Rainy Day Fund, spear-headed by Tom Ammiano back in 2003. The Mayor and the Board of Supervisors have publicly committed about $30 million dollars from that fund to cover an anticipated $40 million shortfall. The formal details are being worked out and still required the unsettling delivery of layoff notices (the funds are supposed to be distributed for emergency situations.) At an incredibly well-attended rally this past Tuesday organized by United Educators of San Francisco (UESF, the teachers’ union), public officials including the Mayor spoke of this support, which is reassuring when facing school budget decisions for next year. This influx of funds would mean that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) would be able to rescind those layoff notices before the end of the year.

So the Rainy Day Fund is something we can all be incredibly grateful for, but we have to remember that it’s just a solution for this year. Further, not every school district in the state is part of such a supportive and wealthy city. The signs and chants of teachers, parents, kids and other supporters at Tuesday’s rally made it clear–education is not getting the resources needed from the state and that has got to change. As the PTA has so aptly put it, we need to “Flunk the Budget” and also have a complete transformation in how public education is prioritized up in Sacramento.

Over the past several weeks, school communities from all over San Francisco and the state have been making phone calls and writing letters. One of the more creative events is the Flynn Elementary School Community’s “wrap-around” protest this Friday from 7:45 – 8:15 am (3125 Cesar Chavez Street at Harrison). These types of efforts seemed to have helped inspire our Democratic leaders to do more, for instance a proposal by Speaker Fabian Nunez for a tax on oil to address some of the budget problems. Local elected officials such as Mark Leno and Carole Migden have expressed concern and support. Leland Yee is scheduling meetings with school boards in his district. Fiona Ma has been noticeably quiet.

But still, this support is not strong enough. Given the school budget raids a few years ago and our continued low-level of per-student funding, it’s obvious the pressure on our government to adequately support education is still too low. It’s time for some new strategies. Luckily, two possibilities have recently surfaced.

The first is from the PTA, which has so effectively organized against budget cuts in the past. This Tuesday, March 18th, the San Francisco PTA will be sponsoring a strategy brainstorming meeting called “Help PTA Flunk the Budget” for school communities to share their ideas with each other. The event will be at 555 Franklin, in the Board Room from 6:00 – 6:30pm. People are requested to RSVP by March 15th if they can, by emailing Bleepta@aol. com. Include your name, your school and how many people will be attending. Media may be in attendance.

The second opportunity is with a relatively new organization called Youth Noise. Folks from Youth Noise were at Tuesday’s rally handing out postcards calling for an April 18th “Right To Learn” Day of youth actions against the budget. Staff from Youth Noise are hoping that kids from across the state will organize their own events on that day (with support from adults), document those events and upload them to their site, amplifying the effect by documenting and promoting all of the activities.

While there is a certain amount of risk in such an undefined organizing effort, it might be worth seizing on that date as a good time for anyone and everyone to engage in any activity opposed to the budget cuts. Imagine if students, parents, educators and all public school supporters across the state had phones in Sacramento ringing, converged en masse at rallies, jammed faxes, flooded email inboxes and showed up on local newscasts in every county. That would make an impression and we have the numbers to do it.

Not only do we have the numbers, but to put it simplistically, we have right on our side. Quality public education is essential to our society, a society (and particularly our state) which is wealthy enough to provide it. When we’re making phone calls and writing letters, not only can we demand that the education budget not be cut, but we can remind our elected officials that there are far better options. Consider this list of revenue sources put together by the California Federation of Teachers that would address about $13 billion of the $16 billion shortfall:

• Reinstate the vehicle license fee ($6 billion per year)
• Bring the top tax bracket back to 11% ($2.5 billion)
• Re-assess non-residential real property ($3 billion per year)
• Limit mortgage interest deductions to $50,000 in interest ($47 million per year)
• Require that large corporations file as corporations, not “S” type partnerships ($500 to 600 million per year)
• Enact severance tax on oil produced in California ($1 billion per year with oil at $80 a barrel)
• Close tax loophole for luxury boats and planes exchanged in Mexico ($55 million)
• Extend sales tax to Internet purchases ($20 million)

The problem isn’t resources, but priorities. It’s as simple as that.

School Assignment Update: Families have received assignment letters for the 2008-2009 school year. Those who have any questions or concerns should attend an upcoming counseling session:

• Thursday, March 13, 6-8pm, Jose Ortega ES, 400 Sargent St. @Arch St.
• Saturday, March 15, 10am-12pm, Starr King ES, 1215 Carolina St. @Wisconsin St.
• Monday, March 17, 10am-12pm, (in Chinese only) Chinese for Affirmative Action offices, 17 Walter U. Lum Place @ Clay
• Tuesday, March 18, 6-8pm, John O’Connell HS, 2355 Folsom St. @20th St.
• Thursday, March 20, 6-8pm, Excelsior MS, 325 La Grande Ave. @ Brazil St.

People can also contact Parents for Public Schools for assistance (info@ppssf.org or 415-861-7077).

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children who attend McKinley Elementary School 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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