Friday, January 11, 2008

Governor cuts $360 million from K-12 schools

So we all spent the past few months giving our all to the public school process, and what do we get? Budget cuts from the public schools.

According to an article by Nanette Asimov in today's Chronicle, Governor Schwarzenegger just announced that he "wants an immediate cut of $360 million from K-12 schools and $40 million from community colleges, although their combined share of this year's deficit is far more--$1.4 billion. For next year, he wants to suspend Proposition 98, the voter-approved law that guarantees a minimum level of school funding. That would mean withholding $4 billion from kindergarten through community colleges."

"'These are the deepest cuts ever proposed for school funding in the history of California,' said Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators."'

Any thoughts?


  1. Teachers, parents and students who really believe in public education need to park themselves in front of the the state capitol building and demand that the "governor" retract this horrific budget proposal. We cannot accept this solution to solving the deficit and whether or not our children are in public or private schools we need to fight for the rights of all children to have access to quality public education.
    On a local level, we need to pass the upcoming parcel tax. It will help to soften the hit and will help balance the SFUSD budget.
    Be active, be vocal, get's what public education is all about!

  2. Teacher/parent has it right, of course.

    We need to decide whether we're going to be the kind of state and nation that provides services and infrastructure to its citizens or not -- WITT (We're In This Together) vs. YOYO (You're On Your Own).

    It seems obvious to me that a civilized society collects adequate taxes from its resourced populace and then provides needed services to all. I think most of the tax-cutters are just pathologically short-sighted, refusing to recognize the effects when they adopt the philosophy. But perhaps there really is some vision of the advantaged keeping most of their bounty, living behind walls and purchasing the services they need, while the unresourced scrounge for crumbs outside the gates. I wonder what nation or society these people see as a model.

    It was my parents' generation (the so-called Greatest Generation) that started pushing for that model, despite the fact that their postwar fortunes were transformed by the most extensive government program in history, the GI Bill. My generation, the Baby Boomers, largely sank into passive complacency, to our collective shame and my disgust.

    I think most of the readers of this blog are in your 30s or even 20s -- now it's up to you to chart the course!

    But meanwhile, in the short term -- VOTE! And scream to your legislators, join your PTA, carry a sign, wear a bumper sticker, try to convert your friends and relatives (probably outside SF) who don't get it.

  3. Another point of view, from the Signal Flag, the weekly newsletter of SF SOS... (Sorry for the length, but I couldn't find an online archive link for this.)

    SF SOS is a non-partisan, grassroots organization made up of concerned San Franciscans who want to reverse the decline of our city.

    School District Adds Superintendent for Social Justice

    The San Francisco public school district has created a new $180,000 per year + benefits position for a "Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, Innovation and Social Justice."

    The District says it needs voters to pony up for a new parcel tax to cover up (temporarily) its structural budget deficit, then it spends a couple hundred grand on a "social justice" job to mollify a school board that works overtime to think of new ways use children to pursue their own pet version of what social justice is.

    As we have pointed out for years, the District has a structural deficit because of its student assignment system. The district won’t give parents what poll after poll shows they want: neighborhood school assignment. Then the District tells parents that their kid "must" attend a school the parents don’t want. Parents decline the lovely offer, move or suffer private school tuition, and the state sends around $5 million fewer dollars per year than it otherwise would because fewer kids means less money.

    The problem is compounded because the District is running dozens of school that are well below capacity (often more than 50% vacant). Each facility still costs a fortune to operate in non-classroom costs, so your budget gets tighter still.

    Just like a company that has too many factories running at half-capacity, the sensible budget decision is to close half-empty schools and pump the savings into the remaining ones. But if you mangle the "school closure process" as the District has over the last three years, School Board politicians must face angry teachers and union staff who don’t want reality to impact their daily routines.

    What’s the easiest way to avoid the hard decisions forced on you by your bad decisions? Ask for a taxpayer bailout. So coming to a ballot near year’s parcel tax.

  4. SF SOS seems a little out of touch with current choices parents are making -- my understanding is that very few parents choose their neighorhood school. Kate's poll on this blog shows that at least among blog-reaaders, parents prefer the choice system to a neighborhood assignment system. There are so many programs out there to serve every interest (language immersion, project-based learning, arts education.)

    Yes, this does add more stress to parents as they tour and rank schools, but ultimately leads to families who are really committed to the school they get. Of course, for those that prefer their neighborhood school, nothing prevents them from ranking it first.

  5. Tell that to the people living in Rooftop's or Clarendon's or [fill in the blank's] neighborhood.

  6. The "Social Justice" title in that job is a sop to the Green/Progressives who lead the school board.

    It's actually not a new position -- I forget what the old title is, but a trustworthy source (Jill Wynns) tells me it's a job with actual essential functions. It just was retitled to suit our favorite elected officials. And Tony Smith, the guy who filled the job, is impressing everyone with his sense and effectiveness, despite being a (horrors) white male.

    The Signal Flag is a right-wing (by SF standards), public-school-hating rant that has become increasingly marginalized. Initially, Dianne Feinstein and Warren Hellman were involved with it, but they determined that it was too shrill, angry and pro-privatization and dropped their involvement.

    The guy behind it has previously been discussed on this blog as the one who rants and shrieks about neighborhood schools, but insisted on Alice Fong Yu for his twins even though he lives way across town.

  7. Shrill? Angry? Do I hear a familiar tone?

  8. I support the WITT (We're In This Together) vision over the YOYO one. I am so glad for the PPS, the PTA and other groups who help us join together to advocate for resources to benefit all our kids.

    Today I am especially grateful to Caroline for her advocacy work, not only for helping to lay the groundwork for the upcoming budget/taxes fights but because we ended up putting down Aptos as our #1 pick for middle school--and I know that she is among those who has helped build it up. Thank you, Caroline!

  9. Caroline, "unnamed man" does live way across town, but he doesn't have twins: he has a 1st grade boy, and a girl who will be entering AFY next year, taking one of the spots that so many of us are vying for.

    He actually applied to private schools for his son. Not sure what happened there.

    But I thought you said that his kids didn't get into AFY as a political favor? His wife did work for the superintendent of schools, yes?

    I don't mean to be a gossip: I am just referring back to the conversation about whether political favors sway public school assignments or not. I tend to think that there is no system that is entirely 'pure' but what do I know - I'm a cynic.

    (Yet I'm also hopeful!)

  10. Just to be clear, the proposed parcel tax being discussed is to help get teacher salaries to be closer in line with neighboring districts and has been in discussion for years now. It will be on the June 2008 ballot. It IS NOT being used to balance the SFUSD budget - it's really an entirely different issue. It is very important that this not be confused or thought that it's just covering a budget crunch. Our teachers are underpaid - badly - compared to nearby districts. We lose those teachers and this is designed to help keep them in SF.

    The SFSOS newsletter - this guy is a wacko. No one who used to support it listens to this guy anymore - not the business community (SF Chamber or Committee on Jobs) or the political committee. It's laughable that he says the assignment system is causing the budget problem! If only it were that simple.

    It's so much more than what the simpleton SFSOS would want people to believe - California/SF high cost of living, lower funding per student than most of the rest of the country, too many mandates and control in Sacramento vs. giving local control of money - and most importantly Prop 13. If you are are really wonky about education finance and funding read some of the "Getting Down to Facts" studies that came out (google it) to see that there are no simple solutions. But fortunately, there has been some wonderful new thinking and listening happening in California on how to address these issues.

  11. Dear previous anonymous:

    I wonder if you are the same person whom I have read before who posts things that are in my head?

    I totally agree, and it is such a crying shame that people are so unaware of the damage caused by the wrong-headed and horrible Prop 13th. Just today, at a kindergarten screening, natch, I found myself explaining it to parents who weren't really aware.

    Meanwhile, most of us who have school-age children aren't benefiting from it in any way whatsoever.

    What will it take to repeal this harmful law? I get so frustrated that California voters did this to us 25 years ago, and lawmakers don't fix it.

    What are our values, anyway?

    Will I still support this, and every other parcel tax? Hell yes. But it still feels so piddly compared with what we deserve for our children.

  12. I'd love to address some of what SFSOS is saying....

    "The district won’t give parents what poll after poll shows they want: neighborhood school assignment."

    Actually, the facts refute this. The poll on this blog mirrors all the other studies and polls show - that about 1/3 may want neighborhood schools and 2/3 want choice. In the report done last year with 900 parents from every zip code in the city, there was not a strong desire to return to forcing parents to neighborhood schools. Parents like, want and demand choice. Also, only about 25% of kindergarten parents actually list their neighborhood school in the enrollment process.
    "Then the District tells parents that their kid "must" attend a school the parents don’t want."

    The District would LOVE it if every single parent got their first choice! Life would be GRAND, right? But if more people request some schools than other, they can't very well pack every single request into a few schools. Fortunately, trends of the past couple of years are changing and families are now starting to realize that there are many great school choices - and more people are getting schools of their choice because parents are choosing a wider variety. (Believe me, just a few years ago, schools like Flynn, Miraloma, McKinley, Grattan, Monroe, Starr King were not considered feasible by the likes of those that read this blog. A lot has changed.

    If we did what SFSOS wanted, we'd all be forced only to go to our neighborhood school, limiting access to program choices (what if you want immersion but your neighborhood school didn't have it?) How interesting that this guy's kids go to Alice Fong Yu, not his neighborhood school. What a hypocrite.

    "The problem is compounded because the District is running dozens of school that are well below capacity (often more than 50% vacant). Each facility still costs a fortune to operate in non-classroom costs, so your budget gets tighter still."

    There are certainly efficiencies to be had in closing and consolidating schools and the BOE has done it badly in the past.

    However, contrary to what one might think, it doesn't turn up quite the fortune SFSOS implies. Closing a school only turns up about $300,000 per year. It IS something, but in budgetary terms hardly a fortune (considering the SFUSD is being told to cut $26 million this school year alone by the Governor.)

    "What’s the easiest way to avoid the hard decisions forced on you by your bad decisions? Ask for a taxpayer bailout. So coming to a ballot near year’s parcel tax."

    Again, the parcel tax has been in discussion for more than three years and has been back burnered while the district focused on bond needs for facilities (the past two Proposition A bonds) and for Proposition H (to provide more academic support from the City.) The parcel tax is to help provide more pay for teachers as the facts are: teachers can drive 10 minutes from SF and make $10,000 more a year. THAT's what the parcel tax is about.


    As someone who is rather wonky about education and does pay close attention, I urge everyone to avoid the extreme rantings of SFSOS. As noted, this guy fell of the credibility wagon with all those that formerly supported him (DiFi, Warren Hellman) and is considered laughable by the business community he likes to see himself as a part of (SF Chamber AND Committee on Jobs).

  13. I know this has been said before but thouht I'd point it out yet again - the neighborhood school issue is a total red herring when it comes up relative to people choosing private school over public. People whose kids go to private school travel some pretty long distances to get their kids to school. If they were so devoted to sending their kids to a neighborhood school, private is NOT the way to go.

  14. I never understand why there isn't more advocacy around a repeal or at least partial appeal of prop 13. Tax relief can still be given to low-income or elderly homeowners, but an across the board "freeze" on real estate values for tax purposes is longterm suicide for the infrastructure of this state. I really don't get it. Would voters really appose a repeal of prop 13 for property values in excess of $10 million dollars (as a starting point)?

  15. Thank YOU for your comments, Liz, and best of luck with middle school! My kids are/were really happy there (Happy? In middle school??)

    Some responses...

    ** "unnamed man" does live way across town, but he doesn't have twins: he has a 1st grade boy, and a girl who will be entering AFY next year, taking one of the spots that so many of us are vying for.**

    Sorry, my bad information, or assumption. I do know his now-wife. I think I assumed that because the discussions were always of plural kids, sounding like they were applying at the same time, they must be twins.

    ** But I thought you said that his kids didn't get into AFY as a political favor? His wife did work for the superintendent of schools, yes?**

    What I said was that I found it really hard to believe that Ackerman would pull strings for him. He was and is so hostile and did so much harm to support for SFUSD that I'm not sure his marriage to one of her right-hand staffers would win her to his cause! But I'm speculating. I truly don't know if anyone gets special inside favors.

    Good analysis of the SFSOS message, Anonymous! A couple of additions:

    SFSOS says: ... "the District tells parents that their kid "must" attend a school the parents don’t want."

    It's completely dishonest to put "must" in quotes, of course -- that's not the way the process works, and he knows it. The district makes an offer, an initial placement; and even runs workshops giving applicants their options if they don't want the school offered.

    SFSOS says: "the District is running dozens of school that are well below capacity (often more than 50% vacant)."

    It's unknowable how many schools are below capacity -- in fact, there isn't some hard-and-fast, clearly established capacity for a school building. What happens to that number when class sizes are reduced (for whatever reason), for example?

    But yes, there are schools below capacity, the population of families with children is dropping, and SFUSD will have to close schools. Here's an issue. The obvious criteria for closing schools include underenrollment and low performance, yes? But that is almost always likely to mean schools in low-income neighborhoods with many disadvantaged minority families.

    So some (mainly the school board's/supervisors' Green/Progressive faction) view the fair way as closing schools in other parts of town -- including high-performing, popular, non-underenrolled schools.

    So what's the answer?

  16. Oh, and anonymous who asked why there isn't more advocacy for repealing Prop. 13: Well, longtime homeowners tend to oppose that, and so do business property owners who also get the tax break. The advocates would have to endorse repealing their own tax break, and unfortunately many people just aren't bighearted or visionary enough to do that.

    In the few years after Prop. 13 took effect, it resulted in an outrageously two-tiered system. Two identical houses would be taxed at wildly different amounts based on how long the homeowner had lived there -- basically my parents' generation would be paying some piddly amount and mine would be paying an exponentially huger amount. It still works that way, but now it's more multitiered, so maybe it's murkier.

    Anyway, that outrageous system has already stood up to multiple legal challenges. It's really discouraging. But of course in that case a successful challenge might have resulted in tax cuts for younger, more-short-term homeowners too, cutting off funds still more for our public services and infrastructure.

  17. maybe we can put an education tax on the ballet,and raise the extra funds the schools need that way,or has this already been done?

  18. News of drastic budget cuts reminds me why I was so fearful of sending my children public schools before I started this process: you never know what the next year is going to look like in terms of funding. What will be cut? How much will individual school sites need to raise to replace what's cut? Will the good teachers hang in? Will the middle class families who can pony up the money?

    What will happen to California over the next 10 years if we continue down this path?

    We're still hoping to get assigned to a public school we could be happy with, but this will make us think EXTRA hard about declining a private school offer if we get one. We're talking about our kids here.

  19. This is one reason that I send my kids to private school - looking into public schools, I just felt that there are a lot of things done and decisions made affecting public schools that have absolutely nothing to do with what's best for the kids. Adding to that the uncertainty of what the SFUSD/state/federal government are going to to at any time that could affect my child's education, and it makes me feel extremely lucky that we're able to go a different route.

  20. Since not everyone can afford to "go that different route," .. can I please recommend that everyone THINK HARD ABOUT THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN?

    In particular, HILLARY CLINTON says many amazing things about repealing NCLB and making sure that eduction continued to be funded. No other candidate has spoken out so strongly on the issue. Of course, she is a mother herself so she understands on a very base level.

    In a couple weeks we will have an opportunity to go to the ballot and vote with our conscience. IF you truly care about education of our children, I recommend voting in an educated manner, whether or not you send, or hope to send, your children to school outside of the public school system. THANK YOU.

  21. I wonder if the people focused on Prop 13 are homeowners? As a middle class homeowner in SF I can tell you I pay enough in property tax. Also is this the right way to cover the gap? By leaving older people on fixed income screwed becuase they cant afford tax on a home they bought 30years ago. I am for tax increases as long as the money is actually used to benefit the community. And I think everyone should be impacted and not just homeowners. There are plenty of renters with high incomes in SF and they use public schools just like the rest of us. At this point they dont pay nearly as much as I already do to support our public schools.

  22. The situation in 1978 was that home values were soaring wildly, and older homeowners were having to pay rising taxes for that reason.

    A number of options for easing that strain were bandied about, but the legislature didn't act fast or decisively enough, so the tax-cutters won.

    There were stories about old folks losing their homes -- this was before, but there were efforts to check them out, and my understanding is that none really did.

    And of course the flip side is that those people (including my parents) made unbelievable profits when they did get around to selling, off my generation and the generations behind me. So to me it doesn't seem like THAT outrageous a situation. When your $17,000 home is now worth a million, all due to not one finger lifted by you, cry me a river if you have to pay a little tax on it, frankly.

  23. Caroline,

    It's not realized money. Many people who own homes dont view at as an investment. It's just their home. How do you expect people to earn the money to pay the tax? What if an avergae middle class person can afford the fixed mortgage but not the adjustable tax? Should they just work harder or move out? Where is the conversation about how to tax renters or all SF citizens to pay for schools? I'm not against more taxes; I just think we shouldnt tax middle class home owning families who already pay more than anyone else in the city to fund SF schools.

  24. Re: Prop 13
    1. MANY states have generous homeowner exemptions that the elderly or low-income can apply for and receive tax relief so that they can stay in their home. The difference is that these residents need to apply for this relief. In CA, this relief is given to everyone, whether you need it or not, and whether or not you even live in the property. I am not sure that the residents of 10+ million dollar estates need this financial relief.
    2. Prop 13 is a tremendous subsidy to real estate investors. Why not curtail prop 13 so that it applies only to homeowners living in the property?
    3. Prop 13 also stifles supply. Why sell my house that I no longer live-in, if I can rent it out in a tight rental market and make lots of money indefinitely (my asset also appreciates, while my tax burden increases at a much, much lower rate)

    Re: Tax Rates
    4. We own a home and we pay oodles more than our neighbors because we bought at probably the height of the SF boom (of course). But you know what? 1.14% is a LOW rate. My cousin in the suburbs of Chicago pays 2.5%. That’s more than double.

  25. Yes, I understand this (the example of a $17,000 home soaring to $1 million value is about accurate for my mom's Mill Valley home, purchased in 1959):

    **It's not realized money. Many people who own homes dont view at as an investment. It's just their home. How do you expect people to earn the money to pay the tax? What if an avergae middle class person can afford the fixed mortgage but not the adjustable tax?**

    And this would have been the answer, it seems to me:

    **MANY states have generous homeowner exemptions that the elderly or low-income can apply for and receive tax relief so that they can stay in their home.**

    Various forms of such relief were being discussed, apparently languidly, before Prop. 13 made the decision for us all.

    I don't know the answer about taxing renters. I would assume that the tax paid by the landlord and passed through would have the same effect, but there could be issues I'm not grasping.

  26. Re: tax rates

    CA "low" rate = 1.14%
    IL (Chicago) "high" rate = 2.5%

    Guess what?
    CA income tax = up to 9.3% if you earn over $44K;
    IL income tax = 3% flat rate

    Most states are set-up like this - pay higher income taxes or pay higher property taxes.

  27. I am the original prop 13 complainer, and a long time prop 13 complainer, and YES I am a homeowner. Previously a renter. And I deal a lot with real estate issues in my, and my spouse's, business.

    I'm tell you, there is NO benefit to prop 13. It was basically pushed through by real estate developers under the guise of helping the little old ladies. But the truth is that the little old ladies who own $5 million dollar homes HAVE FIVE MILLION DOLLARS and they can afford taxes on those homes! The money doesn't come from the little old ladies; it comes either from the houses owned by the little old ladies, or from tax benefits given by the state, as Caroline explained above. But, also as Caroline explained accurately, there are no limits to who benefits from the law, and over time it has been shown that truly, only real estate developers and multi-millionaires who keep estates in their families, benefit.

    So, when you buy that $1 Million fixer-upper, you are often paying ten times the amount of taxes that the person next door is paying.

    People give all sorts of trickle-down reasons that lower tax bases lower rents, but all of those have been disproved by actual analyses of the rental market. Rents are set by the rental market regardless of what the mortgage and tax payments are of the developers, and trust me, developers would easily flip on a property it made them money.

    Anyway, I don't mean to get on a tangent here, but the truth is that we need to be critical thinkers of the crap that politicians will feed us. And I'm not sure what can be done about the recent proposed budget cuts, but I do think that all of us, whether or not we send our kids to public schools or ever intend to, it's worth the fight.

    I'm meanwhile hoping to hear that this will never pass. I can't wait to try to elect a new governor. Sigh.

  28. Good point on income vs. prop tax (IL vs. CA). I hadn't thought of it that way

  29. Well, just to throw in a little bit more food for thought on the Prop 13 issue...

    Firstly, one way to ease the problems that Prop 13 has caused to the funding of our schools would be to eliminate the benefits that it gives to corporations that own property - they are given the same benefits as residential home owners. But, because of the definitions of "ownership", corporations are able to hold on to the the low tax base of their property even though the corporation has been bought and sold several times over. This change could be made through legislative means if there were a politition with the gumption to challenge the corporate interests.

    Secondly, residential property changes hands, on average, every 7 years, so the effects of Prop 13 is watered down as the years pass and these properties are bought sold and the tax base is increased to the current market value. Additionally, the price of real estate here in California has risen so much since the 1970's that the increased taxes collected on this pricier real estate must, at some point, make up for the increasingly small number of homes with a very low tax base.

  30. "Good point on income vs. prop tax (IL vs. CA). I hadn't thought of it that way"

    Not sure if it's a good point at all.. The real truth is behind the numbers. Look at the average price for a home in SF compared to an avergae price of a home in IL..

    Lets say for example you just bought a home in SF.. You pay $750,000 an average price these days.. your propety tax a wopping 8600++... Now if you want to bump this up to say what IL pays ..18750.. How many people can really afford that??

    what are politicians doing with the money we already pay in taxes? How do we know that if we pay more taxes are kids will have good public education? How do we spread the tax around in a city like SF where we have so many highly paid renters that use public schools?

    I think these are all really good questions. If I could pay a few hundred dollars a month more in taxes every month and I was given good public schools for all, good health care for all, shelter for all, etc....... sign me up..

    My fear is that politicians only care about electability.. They dont care about providing leaderhip or service to the people. Then why give them more money? To prosecute athletes for doping? To re-district? To what??

  31. Kudos to Caroline for her comment, "We need to decide whether we're going to be the kind of state and nation that provides service s and infrastructure to its citizens or not--WITT (Were in this Together) vs. YOYO (you're on your own)."

    This is a huge cultural and political question and I fear for the future. It just boggles the mind how well the "haves" have made the "have-nots" identify with them. People in the US blame themselves for their hardships rather than a structure they did not create that favors the already-privileged without their realizing it. The wealthy have done a great job of making people all across the economic spectrum terrified of taxes. Majorities who do vote, vote against taxes or send people to legislatures to vote against taxes that most of them probably won't have to pay, or would have to pay only a tiny relative amount.
    People are also convinced that they should not pay taxes because the government is wasteful. Well, I've spent a few years on a Congressional staff and the rest of my career in the private sector, and I can assure you, there's plenty of waste in the private sector. In the 80s, I worked for a fancy business furniture dealer, and a big mergers & acquisitions firm was spending $600 each on throw pillows. So much for the $600 government toilet seats. Human institutions are flawed; public institutions don't have a monopoly on imperfection.

    I read something yesterday that only about 20% of people take an interest in politics. And really, you can't blame people for not wanting to get involved when we're exhausted from working all hours to make ends meet, keep our homes functioning at a basic level, and trying to spend a little time with our kids.

    As far as preserving existing social/power structures are concerned, it's advantageous to gut public education as much as possible and drive the haves into private schools, because the less the have-not or have-less people know, the fewer questions they'll ask. One of the things I loved about my SF public school tours this fall that made me say, "Yes, I can send my child to public school" was my sense that this district is working to educate citizens, not just consumers.

    As a mostly private school parent so far, I would gladly pay more taxes to see public schools fully funded so schools in all communities have fair teacher salaries, nice physical facilities, and funding for art, music, drama, PE, lots of science, and all the stuff that makes schools places that teachers want to teach and kids want to learn. I'm appalled that what a public school has to offer in SF is so contingent on private PTA fundraising.

    The rugged individual thing is so deeply ingrained in our culture. We love our Horatio Alger stories, even though in reality they're one in a million. We have to ask ourselves, how do we convince people that we really are all in this together, and build ourselves a more civil society? It's huge. Let's hope this next presidential election helps people get focused on what we need to do TOGETHER to take care of our future.