School Beat: The Future of the Public Education and Enrichment Fund Community Advisory Committee

by Tim Lennon on December 2, 2010

The voters, in 2004 overwhelmingly approved Proposition H, the Public Education Enrichment Fund, better know as PEEF. This fund enriches the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) with almost $30 million dollars a year. The money is divided into three parts: the first allocation is for support of the First Five preschool program; the second third supplements sports programs, libraries, the arts and music (SLAM); and the third part is used for general services to SFUSD, which includes social workers, nurses, Wellness Centers, Peer Resources, Translations services and the like.

The PEEF Community Advisory Committee was established to advise the Board of Education (BOE) about the value and effectiveness of PEEF programs. Individuals are appointed by either a BOE commissioner or the SFUSD Superintendent to serve on the committee. Initially, the PEEF CAC made recommendations for PEEF funding. In 2009, the BOE, through a resolution, gave a new direction for the CAC. The CAC was now directed to “serve as conduit” to and from the “stakeholders” in order to “inform, educate and brief” and gather “data, informal feedback and ideas from community members.”

There are a number of conditions that challenge the working of the PEEF CAC:

• We are a volunteer community group which means that on a good day only eight or ten members out of twenty attend our meetings. It becomes difficult, for me at least, to say our committee represents the community when we are such a small group.

• The CAC has no practical advisory duties even though we are the Community Advisory Committee. Significant decisions are made concerning PEEF without consultation with the CAC and without a broad community conversation other than the limited ability to comment at BOE budget meetings. These significant changes, such as the $4 million in reserve taken from PEEF funding to subsidize WSF (Weighted Student Formula) and the elimination of violence prevention programs are two examples. Obviously, we do not question the right or authority of the Superintendent and BOE to make these decisions, but if those in positions of authority make the big decisions concerning PEEF without significant community input, why do they even need the CAC? I believe there needs to be a larger community discussion about decisions that significantly modify or eliminate existing programs.

• The Sports, Libraries, Art and Music (SLAM) segment is a significant portion of PEEF funding. However, the CAC has little or no influence in how these funds are spent. There are three reasons: (a) the original funding initiative (Prop H) spelled out funding of this component; (b) at initial CAC meetings a general template of spending was worked out after some wrangling and since then the SFUSD program staff has determined the distribution; (c) I think most CAC members have the utmost confidence in the professional work provided by SFUSD staff in evaluating their programs and recommendations.

• All past PEEF funding is carried over from previous years with the assumption of continued funding of existing programs. The CAC accepted the various programs with little process to evaluate and weigh them in relation to their contribution to the success and enrichment of our students. It is not clear if that possibility is in the scope of our mission. Given our role as a conduit of information to and from the community, can we or should we recommend the discontinuation of some programs in favor of others?

The limitations and restrictions described above do not restrain us from taking positive action. There are a number of steps that can be taken to move the PEEF CAC to a more constructive place. I suggest that our priorities should be to:

a. promote to the community how our students benefit from these enrichment funds,

b. demonstrate the effectiveness of these funds,

c. illustrate how the culture of San Francisco in general is enriched, and

d. listen to our community and gather their feedback.

In order to achieve these, I suggest the following:

1. Concentrate on getting information about PEEF to the entire SF community as a whole. Our community needs to be informed of how PEEF funding has enriched our schools and the culture of our city. We should focus our outreach initiatives, for instance on school communities, community and city agencies, and the placement of promotional material in public media.

2. Hold monthly PEEF CAC meetings at various school sites, starting with the schools of current CAC members. On our three year schedule we can reach maybe eight schools a year or 24 schools over three years. There are numerous benefits to this suggestion. It would allow us to see firsthand the implementation of PEEF programs and to invite school community members to participate in part of our meetings. Ultimately, this would expand the set of perspectives on PEEF issues, and over time, enable us to say with more creditability that the CAC represents the community.

3. Critically examine the idea of the CAC conducting any qualitative or quantitative analysis. Given the limitations of volunteers on the CAC, we should not attempt to reproduce existing professional evaluations made by SFUSD administrators. We should concentrate on gathering community input and serving as advocates of the benefits of PEEF to the community as a whole.

4. Encourage future community discussion to view third/third funded programs openly, and examine the various programs in relation to their contribution to the success and enrichment of our students and the culture of our city. An important example of this has been the transfer of PEEF funds (about $4 million dollars) over the last several years to subsidize basic school funding. I believe that the decision to transfer this substantial amount of money should be made with the involvement of the whole community. The dramatic underfunding of SFUSD maybe an overriding consideration, however there also may be strong concerns from parents, teachers and principals that Wellness Centers, social workers, nurses, art are more beneficial and these perspectives should carefully considered.

While re-funding PEEF is still four years away we need to draw up a three or four year plan now to prepare for that re-authorization. The challenge before us is in helping the people of San Francisco to understand the powerful impact of continued enrichment programs on our students. Our success depends upon our core base of parents and teachers embracing that challenge.

The PEEF CAC’s role has changed over time but it can still perform an important function if we get out of the meeting room and into our schools and community. We have the challenge of informing our community of the fantastic PEEF programs and hearing the community’s feedback to make this unique City and school district partnership work at its best for the benefit and enrichment of our children.

Tim Lennon is the parent of twin girls in seventh grade at Hoover Middle School. He also co-chairs the PEEF CAC.

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