Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hot topic: Public school budget cuts

An SF K Files visitor suggested a hot topic:

"Does anyone know what impact the state budget crisis is going to likely have on schools? How will it impact specific schools? What programs are most at risk? Is Prop H money safe--and what about other designated funding sources?"


  1. It's going to get ugly. This topic was suggested a long time ago, and taken up to some extend on an old thread.

    The economic meltdown is just starting, and no part of gov't is going to be immune to cuts.

    School districts' efforts to prioritize will be hampered by restrictions on what money can be moved where--a large chunk of budget money has to be allocated to after school, libraries, or whatever, due to ballot initiatives passed in better times.

    Those teachers who got pink slips last year but kept their jobs are likely to lose them the next time around. Teachers with seniority will be able to take jobs that are left, but there will be a lot of movement from school to school.

    And you have to think that fundraising numbers will be down across the board, so there won't be as much parent money to help fill the gaps.

    I also suspect that as things get worse more families will either choose to or have to move, so enrollment will drop, leading to school closures.

    If anyone has a more optimistic picture to paint go for it, but this is what I see in our future.

  2. It is going to be hard. Right now the wingnut Republicans are holding up the budget process and making it even worse....but the fundamentals, as they say, of the California economy are not strong. Or the U.S. economy for that matter. So the problem would be there even if the GOP legislators were not so intransigent.

    Bright spots? Well, maybe some of the newly laid off parents will be volunteering more at school--I know, that's not a huge bright spot, but could bring in new resources, for a time....

    And I don't think we can rely on this to solve everything, but we can certainly hope that Obama's stimulus package will include aid to states. That along with extended unemployment benefits is one of the best short-term strategies out there for getting money actually circulating in the economy. Certainly better than tax cuts for rich people, who tend to hoard in hard times--though I understand why he will probably let those tax cuts stand. In an economy on the brink of depression, the fastest way out is big deficit spending on the national level, meaning keeping taxes relatively low AND spending more--hopefully that spending is also investing in items that will build our economy long-term, like schools, a sane health care system, infrastructure, and alternative energy. The state can't do deficit spending, though, which is why we need federal aid.

    Obama did say he wanted to invest in school infrastructure, too.

    I guess the hopeful thing for me is a sense that he plans to call us all to work together on this. How we deal with this in the local schools is exactly that way. It's very sad to think of additional belt-tightening in site council budgets that aren't exactly overflowing with wealth, but aren't most of us facing that on the familial level? If we work together and chip in where we can, and not run away from it, then we can weather this, and show our kids how it's done. I don't mean to sound pollyannish, but I do think that with a strong community spirit the kids will get the most important stuff.

    I love both our school communities and I'm confident that the parents, teachers, administrators and students will rise to the challenge. There's a good spirit in the district these days.

  3. THere is a little bit of good news: NCLB is unlikely to survive, so we should see more creativity in the classroom and less teaching-to-the-test and mind numbing worksheets.

  4. 4:56:

    NCLB will probably change, yes. However, the kind of layoffs the budget crisis may cause would require the end of 20:1 reduction in K-3 and probably send classes well over 35 after that.

    And with that many students? Expect worksheets.

  5. I think parents need to start getting really angry. I heard Carlos Garcia talk about budget cuts once and he said that he calls Arnold almost every day to bug him about this. Carlos says he can't believe parents aren't protesting in the streets outraged. These are our children and we can't sit back and watch this happen. The squeaky mouse gets the cheese. Any thoughts on how to let our voices be heard? Gavin is in the process of figuring out the budget? Maybe we should be writing letters? Or standing out in front of city hall?

  6. We in SFUSD are somewhat protected from the worst of the cuts from Sacramento due to Prop H and the Rainy Day Fund from the city. Other school districts will suffer more severe cutbacks.

  7. I talked to the principal at our school about this. With the cuts, we will probably lose our literacy teacher and the reduction teacher for 4th and 5th. She doesn't think the cuts will go beyond that. Honestly, I think the PTAs might be funding reduction teachers as I think that's what really matters. It's all about the teachers. Kids could go to school in a garage and if they have a fantastic teacher and if the class is small, they'll be fine--and in fact they'll be doing great.

  8. The PTA at our school is already funding a reduction position. Not sure how much more is going to be possible. I predict class-size reductions will be lost fairly quickly.

    And what about schools that don't have large middle-class populations able to raise the needed funds?

  9. Schools without large middle-class populations get more funding via the weighted-student formula and Title One to fund reading recovery, class-size reduction, translation services, etc. A school like ours (66% free/reduced lunch) benefits from the extra funding raised by the middle-class parents combined with the funds it gets as a consequence of having many low-income students.

  10. Yes, from a strict fundraising perspective the best situation is mix of low-income and professional families in order to combine public funds with private fundraising. Of course, this is a good model educationally speaking too, on a number of levels.

  11. And what about schools that don't have large middle-class populations able to raise the needed funds?

    Thanks for raising this. For the record: Title One funds do not, cannot, and probably never will be ample enough to fund things like class size reductions in upper elementary and higher grades. Nor does the WSG provide such funding. And consent decree - which did bring money into SFUSD's schools serving low-income population - is over.

    CSR is funded (such as it is funded) through the state for any school that elects to participate.

    To claim or suggest that these funds somehow equalize/ameliorate the gap between schools that raise huge amounts of money from parents and schools whose parents are not able to support the school financially is just false.

  12. Rainy day fund in SF is only good for another year. This crisis will last much longer. If we could sell our house we would move this summer.

  13. And go where? Are there communities which are not affected by the current fiscal crisis?

  14. Really, this is truly a meltdown across the entire country. These are really scary times.

    When our kids grow up, I think they will think back to what a shameful generation we were -- overspent and putting over soon to be 1.5 trillion dollars of debt on their backs. Maybe even more.

    Darn straight we better make sure our kids and the ones down the block are educated if they are to have a spit of a chance at a decent life.

    Well, maybe if we make a dent in the climate change problem, our generation can be redeemed after all.

  15. Re: moving - even though this crisis is worldwide, many states are not in the horrible economic situation California is in. We'd move back east if we could.

  16. I am always surprised that these budget topics don't generate more comments, more anger. Is it because people don't understand how and when it will affect them personally? Because they don't understand the budget process or situation in general?

    The Chron reports today that the GOP proposal includes cutting approximate 10.4 billion from the K-12 budget over the next 18 months. That's serious money.

  17. Yes, it will have an effect! No doubt about it! The cuts have not started yet, so many are obvlivious to it. Or maybe they are just ignoring the situation until it 'hits home?'

  18. SFUSD took the entire share of the Rainy Day funds from the city they were allowed to last year - there is nothing there to draw on for this next round.

    It would be nice if the district looked at some of their administrative programs like teacher trainers instead of cutting classroom teachers, but I doubt they will. This is where parents should advocate. Why do we pay for teachers to teach our teachers how to teach? Better the money be spent on smaller classes.

  19. 3:50:

    Actually, the District only used half of the $20 million - or at least, that's what they originally were planning with the city. And Garcia has indicated they may request rainy day funding again, which a. suggests layoff notices (since layoffs are a requirement of getting the money) and b. that there is some money in the fund.

    If the District did use all of the money, can you provide a source for that? I haven't seen any reporting on this.

  20. sorry I was wrong, the can access it, but only can get 25% only for two years if certain things are triggered. The thing is the city may use all the money this year.

  21. 7:29:

    Thanks! Rats though, I can't get the link to work. However, I understood the fund to be distributable to 4 different areas, one of which was SFUSD. So the District could have up to 25% of the total. Last year, they took half of that 25%, theoretically leaving 12.5 of the total fund for this year.

    The conditions for release to SFUSD required imminent layoffs - which I believe is why SFUSD sent out so many layoff letters last year while other districts managed to avoid that. Whether or not they can get any funding from the city, I imagine that letters will be sent again this year. This process unfairly impacts schools with younger and newer teaching staffs, which are often historically underperforming schools.

    Of course, I'm biased because since I changed Districts I will not be tenured in SFUSD until next school year (providing I survive the layoff notices) and therefore can expect a letter. Although I think tenure is important, it is frustrating to receive outstanding observations, win grants and get parent requests and have the District's thanks in the form of a potential pink slip.


    For teacher training issues, Proposition A set aside some money to create a master teacher program, where highly-skilled SFUSD teachers would work with their peers one day a week while teaching the other four. I think this program could be a massive assistance to teachers. It's impossible to keep on top of all of the strategies and skills suggested for teachers, and teacher collaboration time is important but lacking. So I think teacher trainers are important (although again I'm biased since I've provided professional development and worked as a master teacher).

    HOWEVER, I feel that teacher trainers who are not currently refining their own craft are not as useful as those who are. It is far too easy to immerse oneself in the details of methodologies and forget the reality of children in the classroom, time management, and so on. So I think reducing the number of specialists and trainers at the District office might be worthwhile.

  22. the fund is distributable to 4 areas, but the city also qualifies this year and their share may take the remaining pot of money (estimated to be about 100 mil). the district also gets adjusted for lots of things(It's a complicated formula) and not just a set percentage of the money.