School Beat: Proposition H Projects for 2008-2009

by Lisa Schiff on December 13, 2007

Public schools in San Francisco face challenges familiar to school districts all over the country—lack of sufficient funding, overbearing and inconsistent regulations, declining enrollment and bad media to name just a few. But among the many things which make our school district (the SFUSD) and our city stand a part, and quite far at that, is the “Public Education Enrichment Fund” (aka “Prop H). Under Prop H, the City provides direct financial support to local public education by funding the expansion of preschools; augment existing K-12 programs in sports, libraries, art and music (SLAM); and creating a flexible” third-third” of funding to support “general education” goals in the SFUSD. This legislation, crafted by Tom Ammiano and passed with the support of people all over the city, is an incredible boon to our schools from preschool to high school as they deal with the constant stress of trying to provide solid educational experiences with fewer resources.

Prop H has an eleven year lifespan and first went into effect with fiscal year 2005-2006. Starting at a funding level of $10 million, Prop H monies will increase by about $10 million each year, until it reaches $60 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, at which point the contribution will stay relatively steady, varying up or down along with the City’s General Fund. This year the budget is at a healthy $45 million, $30 million of which goes towards SLAM programs and the “third-third.”

So far, so good. Prop H is a much needed investment in local education, by a city with more than its share of wealth to spread around. The difficulty comes around in the annual cycle of deciding what to fund and by how much, because while Prop H is an important contribution to the SFUSD budget, it is in no way large enough to fill all the holes that the lack of state and federal resources have left.

The distribution of Prop H money involves a lot of thought, communication and negotiation between the community, the SFUSD and the Board of Supervisors. Part of this chain of negotiations happens in the SFUSD’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for Prop H, which is supposed to develop recommendations for the Board of Education (BOE) for the revenue, which in turn passes those recommendations onto the Board of Supervisors.

Because there is inadequate funding for just about every aspect of public education, every year there is a battle over how Prop H money should be apportioned, particularly the “third-third” which has intentionally few spending parameters. The BOE has shared its own priorities for Prop H third-third funding with the CAC. Those items include: improved energy efficiency and recycling efforts; a point-of sale system for school meals; increased support for county community programs to reduce the encroachment on the General Fund (which are undesignated monies that can be used for any educational purpose); and a grant writer for getting outside funding.

This year there are about 35 proposals (sixteen of which have associated documents available on a Google Group) spanning a wide range of areas and estimated price tags and overlapping with much of the BOE top issues. A sample of proposals from different departments in the SFUSD include upgrading network connections to the remaining schools with low band-width internet connections ($420,000); implementing a point of sale system for school meals ($250,000); and professional development in reading strategies for preK-3 teachers ($300,000).

Proposals including organizations outside the SFUSD include implementation of a peer court program at the middle and high school levels by the San Francisco Peer Court ($400,000); professional development in cultural responsiveness submitted by Chinese for Affirmative Action along with SFUSD department partners ($175,000); and free MUNI passes during the school year for middle and high school students taking MUNI to and from school ($2,000,000).

The above projects are just a sampling of the ideas the Prop H CAC will be choosing from, all of them intriguing and all of them easily justified with unlimited resources. For those who want to learn more about what those choices will be, decisions will most likely be made at two meetings in 2008 on January 6th from 10-5 and January 7th from 5 to 8:30pm (probably at the District offices at 555 Franklin). Undoubtedly some that don’t get chosen will be resubmitted next year. Stay tuned for more details about when that proposal cycle begins and how interested community members can make project proposals.

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