School Beat: More Budget Cuts are Coming – What Can We Do?

by Suzanne Morikawa Madden on January 21, 2010

The San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) projected budget shortfall for the next two years has increased significantly, from $83 million to $113 million. In her blog post about the Board of Education (BOE) budget meeting on Tuesday night, Commissioner Rachel Norton outlines some of the ways the district can cut its budget to address this shortfall, but it still doesn’t cover the full amount they need to cut.

Currently, parents and the community are NOT part of the conversations on how to address these budget shortfalls. They can attend BOE budget meetings, where staff presents their recommendations, but they are not part of the budget committee that is researching and recommending ways to address the shortfall.

The Town Hall on February 25 at Marina Midde School, organized by a number of community groups, including Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco (PPS-SF), is one way parents are trying to bring the community into the conversation, and to strategize on what can be done. The event is not only a chance to hear directly from elected officials about what they are doing about stabilizing education funding, but also to give the community a chance to learn where we’re at and give input.

Now more than ever, parents and the community need to understand what these cuts are and why, and what it will do to education in California – not just K-12, but also Pre-K and our public universities. For instance, recent reports are circulating that funding for First 5 – which addresses preschool education and kindergarten readiness, two indicators of school success – is in danger again.

I am pulling together fact sheets and FAQs about the budget situation and about education funding in general to share at the Town Hall and on our website. If you would like to help with it, please contact me at suzanne@ppssf.org. I am looking for information that explains simply and graphically what these cuts look like and why we are constantly in budget cut mode.

Please forward your suggestions for engaging parents and the community in this budget decision-making process at the district level. There is no voice for parents on what our priorities are for our children’s education. For example, if you had to rank your priorities for what we want to protect as much as possible from budget cuts, which would you choose:

1. Transportation for Special Ed
2. Transportation from Bayview and Mission areas to other schools
3. Class size
4. Arts (visual, performing, music)
5. Sports
6. Summer school for English Learners
7. Summer school for students who are behind grade level
8. Summer school for students who need to make up classes to graduate
9. Length of school year
10. Technical infrastructure at schools (to support School Loop and other computer learning needs)
11. Special programs to address needs of students who are behind grade level
12. Libraries
13. Afterschool programs
14. Parent Liaisons at Title I schools
15. Paraprofessionals
16. GATE and AP classes/teacher prep time for AP classes
17. Translation and interpretation services

And what else? Not that these are all up for budget cuts, but I just listed a few things that might possibly be considered. And totally didn’t address school closures, which is debatable to me about the actual cost savings for the amount of pain it causes.

Now we’re at the point of hard choices. Many programs are funded through grants, which aren’t affected by these cuts. Taking those grant-funded initiatives out of the equation, we still have to address how we’re dealing with this massive shortfall, both short term (in the next 2 years) and long term.

Can we come up with solutions to keep some of the things we consider important to our children’s education? For example, finding some other organization to fund translation and interpretation services so we can keep it at the level it’s at now, or to fund Summer School programs for a specific group. The district can’t go after all of our ideas, but maybe as a community we can research and find creative ways to support the things we deem are important.

Some things to consider:
1. California has the largest number of students of all the states.

2. From the Educated Guess: According to Education Week’s annual survey, California is 46th in spending per student. But these are based on 2007 numbers, BEFORE the latest budget cuts. This number is adjusted for cost of living, so in terms of unadjusted costs, it is 24th, according to the National Education Association survey.

3. From the Educated Guess: “The state spends 3.5 percent of its total taxable resources on education — about 10 percent less than the national average of 3.8 percent.”

4. From Marty Hittelman, California Federation of Teachers : “[Governor] proposes to reduce the Proposition 98 guarantee by $892 million in 2009-10 and $1.5 billion in 2010-11 … The $892 million reduction in 2009-10 is more than the maximum that California could receive over four years in the Race to the Top funding”

5. California is NOT considered a strong candidate to receive Race to the Top funding at this time, due to the large decreases in funding education for the past several years. And this $892 million cut is for THIS SCHOOL YEAR. If you are interesting in helping to pull together fact sheets and FAQs about the budget situation and about education funding in general to share at the Town Hall and elsewhere, please contact me at suzanne@ppssf.org.

Suzanne Morikawa Madden is the parent of a child at Miraloma Elementary School and is the Communications Manager for Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.

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