Thursday, January 28, 2010

S.F. Chron: It may take a lawsuit to preserve schools

Yesterday, SFUSD superintendent Carlos Garcia wrote an op-ed piece for the Chronicle:

On Tuesday night at the San Francisco Board of Education meeting my administration brought forward a preliminary budget proposal that encompassed the next two fiscal years and contains cuts of a magnitude never seen in California public education to date. To say it is a bleak outlook would grossly underestimate the size of the tsunami that is about to hit not only San Francisco's schools but the entire state education system. Yes, these cuts will be greater than those imposed after Prop. 13 and even greater than those experienced during the Great Depression.

To provide some perspective, here simply is our situation: SFUSD has an unrestricted general fund budget of approximately $400 million. Due to the actions taken in Sacramento over the last 18 months, our projected deficit over the next two years will total $113 million, or $1,365 less per student. This means we will be getting $4,977 per student instead of $6,342 per student. So we face 21 percent less for teachers and counselors, for books and math texts, for computers and art classes, and for field trips and science labs.

Sacramento has presented us with this problem and no new math can help us. School districts throughout the state are required by law to make the numbers work or face being put under state receivership. California school districts have been fiscally prudent; this is not a problem created by educators. We've tried to do more with less in a state whose dwindling commitment to education has gotten so bad that by next year we will rank dead last in the country for how much we spend per pupil. How is it possible that the eighth richest economy in the world can have the lowest per-pupil expenditure in the country?


  1. Good, maybe SFUSD will spend its time in lawsuits that make sense, instead of paying high fees to fly lawyers up from Los Angeles to fight against parents seeking appropriate special education programs for their kids.

    It's supremely stupid how SFUSD would rather spend money on lawyers than they would on tutoring a child. In many cases --the cost of the tutoring the parents seek for their children is far less than what SFUSD winds up spending to fly these lawyers up from the LA law firm to fight against the parents and children.

  2. No one can disagree that students are the victims of these devastating budget cuts. But a lawsuit is not going to get blood from the stone that is modern day California. It is pointless to sue someone that is broke, that is to say in this case, it is pointless to sue yourself. If you want to make a statement do it it on your own time and dime. We have enough problems educating our children here in SF without wasting more time and money in litgation for political gain.

    Mr. Garcia, you say that the districts have been fiscally prudent. Are they really? You did not have a problem adding 13 central staff to Francesca Sanchez's department well after you acknowledged the scope of this disaster right here in an interview on SF Kfiles. I could name at least 5 other major district expenditures that were not prudent fiscal management, but what's the point?

  3. Do you mean THIS Francisca Sanchez?:

    People wonder where all the money goes? Central Office expense accounts.

  4. A few paragraphs from the link noted above, in case readers don't have time to read the whole article. It will blow your mind:

    "Through a recent standard “request for Information" form request resulting in 450 pages and a $45 charge at 10 cents per page, San Francisco public school parents have uncovered a host of indefensible spending practices that have occurred at the same moment when our schools are too strapped to cover the basics.

    For instance, just one month before Ms. Leigh began her walk to Sacramento, seven SFUSD administrators were at the Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley, to “discuss” leadership. This lavish weekend retreat cost the students of SFUSD thousands of dollars. They ordered a 200-dollar cheese tray and a 120-dollar dessert platter. An elementary school in SFUSD had only 15 cents per student for supplies -- yet SFUSD administrators sat on the veranda at the Claremont Resort, ordering seven deluxe “boxed lunches” at 35 dollars each and 6-dollar bottles of water.

    One SFUSD administrator in particular, Associate Superintendant Francisca Sanchez was reimbursed $26,527.17 for her spending from January 2008 – April 2009. Although the information request specifically asked for “Francisca Sanchez’s expenses paid for by SFUSD since November 2007,” the $26,527.17 does not include charges Ms. Sanchez made on her SFUSD Diner’s Club card, which were also considerable. Ms. Sanchez attended numerous out-of-town conferences with the commensurate associated charges. SFUSD paid for her valet parking and baggage handling. SFUSD paid 240 dollars for her 49er souvenirs and Godiva chocolates. SFUSD paid 120 dollars for a briefcase with wheels for her. SFUSD paid for tote bags she purchased at hotel gift shops “to hold her conference materials”. SFUSD paid for her room service calls for steaks, salads, appetizers, desserts, and multiple sodas, sodas ironically paid for during SFUSD’s "soda free summer"."

  5. Agreed - Francisca Sanchez is a bad apple. Every district in every country in the world has them.

    That said - I support Garcia's idea for a lawsuit. Now - do it.

  6. Here is what Rachel had to say about central office expenses -

    “This is the part of the budget people always rail about — the “Central Office” spending that is taking money away from the classroom. While we need much more detail about the activities the Superintendent is proposing to cut here, it would be foolish to think this is one huge pot of slush money and waste. These cuts are necessary, but they’re going to hurt: I guarantee it.”

    Yes, it is going to hurt Francesca Sanchez’s lifestyle, along with that of the rest of our ‘leaders’. Rachel may have a point – that central office costs are not the holy grail of cost savings relative to the entire budget, but you don't seem to understand that people rightfully will look at those expenses under a microscope based on the following principle – if you can’t run your own affairs how can you be trusted to run ours?

    Rachel, what is going to hurt is raising class sizes, not ending junkets to Clairemont Resort and Spa. Does the Board and its administration really need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to go on retreats to discuss the failed social equity and balanced scorecard agendas?

    If you are as fiscally responsible as you claim to be, why did you vote for an on-going $50,000 professional development contract that you flat out stated you didn't like?

  7. Carlos Garcia hired Francisca Sanchez, which brings into question his judgment, doesn't it?

    What would happen if we got rid of the entire central office staff, split the money squandered there up by all the schools, and let the principals decide how to spend that money, which textbooks to buy, which teachers to hire, and let all those decisions be site based? It's time for simpler realities and less bureaucracy.
    While some in central office work hard, a lot of them simply make work for each other, and actually don't ever really get anything DONE.

  8. Anonymous@9:56,

    If you want to spend the district's resources on pointless litigation can we expense it from your child's classroom budget? Lawyers cost money, particularly the ones that Maribel Medina hires.

    A lawsuit isn't going to preseve schools. It is a public relations stunt. Can a court order that the State fund districts with money it doesn't have? The California
    is not the Fed. It can't just print more money and increase the debt ceiling leaving that debt to it's descendents,today's students, to pay. The more we borrow the higher the cost of that borrowing. And at this point, California bonds are junk status, literally.

    The problem with the public school bureaucracy is that its driven by self-interest. Educating students comes second. How can Mr. Garcia talk about the cuts children will have to endure without saying anything at all about any personal sacrifice on the part of his staff?

  9. 10:47. A lawsuit would force the governator to cut $113 from somewhere else.

    Or the governator can decide to raise taxes.

    It's very simple.

  10. 10:47 - How is it pointless litigation?

  11. 11:55 said:

    "10:47. A lawsuit would force the governator to cut $113 from somewhere else.

    Or the governator can decide to raise taxes.

    It's very simple"

    I say:

    If it was so simple as Anonymous 11:55-56 says, why wasn't it done already?

    The governor can't unilaterally raise taxes. It has to be done via the current democratically controlled legislature and/or through the ballot box.

    As far as your contention that a suit would not be pointless litigation, even if SFUSD won a moral victory, it would take years to prosecute and there is no money to be awarded. It is simple - yes -simple second grade math.

    The reason why the state controls the purse strings of education in the first place is due to the aftermath of the Serrano case, in which equity of funding across districts had to be established. And then prop 13 came along and decimated revenues.

    If you want to solve the education funding problem you have to invigorate the economy to raise revenues. Repealing Prop 13 (which is a good idea) and raising more taxes to fund education is a double-edged sword. If you raise the taxes you damage the economy. If you further damage the economy the revenue will not be generated. The legislature won't vote to raise taxes. They will pass that to the voters to avoid the political heat.

    It isn't so simple, Anonymous Person.

  12. Why don't the teachers union, the police union, the firefighter's union, SFUSD, the state park's, the parent organization's, etc., band together to:

    1. Identify and endorse a "politial organization" to dismantle prop 13/remove 2/3 majority to pass a budget, or

    2. Found a new organization to achieve above objectives

    There is so much money and political might in these organizations. If they worked together, I think they would be unstoppable.

    We know what the root causes are - Let's lay the ground work to fix the problem

  13. California has highest average salary for public school teachers.
    And probably the most generous benefits. Could that have something to do with the budget crisis?
    (Table 1)

    The claim about lowest expenditures per pupil is misleading. California currently rates 26 - right in the middle of the list (Table 5 on the same webpage). Even with 25% drop next year we wouldn't be the last.
    Besides, expenditures of many other states will drop as well.

  14. 12:50 "California has highest average salary for public school teachers. "

    But we also have one of the highest costs of living in the US... are you taking into account the cost of living?

  15. The lawsuit will cost the SFUSD money. And so what, maybe they win. The State will have to cut from elsewhere. And that still doesn't help the SFUSD budget deficit in the future. Belt tightening is obvious, and certainly the Superintendent needs to start with the central office. Ironically probably some of the same folks that are overseeing the budget to begin with.

  16. "California has highest average salary for public school teachers."

    So what? California also has one of the highest GDPs per capita:

  17. How much less are the schools in SF actually getting this year compared to last year? It's not 113 Million.

  18. The class K-3 class sizes are going to 25 this year. What they didn't tell you is that they are likely to go to 30 next year.

  19. Yes, the cost of living in California is high, but the incomes aren't. Per capita income is barely higher than the nation average (sorry, the numbers are for 2006):

    As we all know, the income of the private sector workforce has been falling behind the cost of living, especially in California.
    For whatever reason the state employees feel that they are entitled to be insulated from this.

  20. re: "How much less are the schools in SF actually getting this year compared to last year? It's not 113 Million."

    $113M is the amount of projected cuts for the next two school years -- so roughly $56M per year.

  21. How embarassing!

    California will soon rank 50th among states (just below Mississippi) in spending per pupil at public schools.

    We are the new laughing stock. The new weed-chewing hicks plauged with illiteracy and stupidity.

    At least a lawsuit might attract attention to the egregious conditions in this state.

  22. "For whatever reason the state employees feel that they are entitled to be insulated from this."

    Good point. The public-sector "unionocracy" increasingly runs this state.

  23. 10:17

    What is this, Republican talking points day? Night is day, down is up, etc. Enough with the stale arguments already....right, the problems in this state are the fault of those state parks workers and DMV clerks. Sure.

    If public sector unions really ran the state, we wouldn't be nearly 50th in the nation in per pupil spending. Nor would their workers be facing furloughs and layoffs.

    The problem in CA is that we are in gridlock--a failed state in terms of governance. We have a majority party (the Democrats) unable to legislate because the minority Republicans can block all budget and revenue legislation. And even if the majority party could legislate, they would face a budget that is mostly locked up with mandatory spending items, anyway, thanks to our ballot box so-called democracy.

    These structural problems make worse our Californiac tendency to want it all--we want to be a high-service, low-taxes state.

    Some states have actually chosen the "high road" to development--think Massachusetts, New York--and have relatively high taxes but also high services like education and health care. Call it the northern European model, American version. Other states have chosen the "low road" of low taxes and low services--think Mississippi, Alabama. They have low taxes, low services (and high inequality).

    Either way can work, fiscally (though they lead to different kinds of jobs and development).

    However, California has chosen the "crazy road" of trying to have high state services, especially prisons, and medium--and wildly variable--taxes. It doesn't add up.

  24. Seriously, people. SFUSD teachers are not over-paid. Many work 15 or more hours overtime without pay. Many more pay for classroom items out-of-pocket. Buying a home in the city? It's next to impossible on a teacher's salary. You've got to be kidding me.

  25. I'm not sure if a lawsuit is the right answer, but aren't there laws about class size in k-3 and about protecting school funding from budget cuts? Anyone know the details? Carolyn? seems like the proposed cuts violate these laws. David Boises might be free now that the prop 8 trial's over.

  26. The "Anti-Prop 8" machine is really impressive. If only there was the same momentum and organization to change 2/3 majority for budget and dismantle prop 13.

  27. No, there are no laws protecting class size reduction. The state has historically given money to schools if they have class size reduction. Last year, that funding was cut. This year, the Governor is proposing to cut it again, so that the cost of smaller classes will rest almost entirely on districts.

    Proposition 98 can't protect against budget cuts, but it should keep them from being devastating. However, 98 can be suspended, and the Governor is proposing changes to tax and revenue policies that would severely cut the amount of money from which 98 is funded.

    Also, the Proposition 8 trial isn't over.

  28. I heard about this the other day: I don't know anything about the organization, but I certainly support the goal. I think that getting rid of the 2/3 rule is one of the very first things that must be done to get CA into some kind of fiscal order.

  29. 9:19,

    Please refer to this site for correct information on CSR.

    The class size reduction penalties were dramatically lowered so that districts could cope better with the loss of funding. With lower penalties the cost-benefit equation between CSR categorical funding and labor changes.

  30. Last year state funding for CSR was $1,071 per student.It was reduced by about $92 this coming year. For the districts the huge reductions in the penalties changes the whole financial picture. It is easy to look up th penalty schedule, but suffice is to say, if you are only paying a fraction of the penalty it makes sense to raise class sizes and lower labor costs, when viewed strictly through the prizm of the budget. Of course it is terrible for education. But all in all the bulk of CSR is still in place and the major change is the penalty structure.

  31. Last year state funding for CSR was $1,071 per student.It was reduced by about $92 this coming year. For the districts the huge reductions in the penalties changes the whole financial picture. It is easy to look up th penalty schedule, but suffice is to say, if you are only paying a fraction of the penalty it makes sense to raise class sizes and lower labor costs, when viewed strictly through the prizm of the budget. Of course it is terrible for education. But all in all the bulk of CSR is still in place and the major change is the penalty structure.

  32. No need to post everything twice... and under each shadow-puppet.

  33. I think he forgot to put his name and then decided to post again with his name. Give the guy a break!

  34. I submitted accidently before I wrote my name on the first post.I had commented previously that I was going to use my name as opposed to commenting anonymously.

  35. Gee, Don, forgive us for thinking we're seeing a reprise of your multiple personalities (5 at last count) on sfschools.

  36. How do you know that Don had five personalities on SF schools? I'm just curious. From reading comments on this blog, it seems there are a few people who are quick to make derogatory claims about Don Krause - claims that in the end turn out to be exaggerations. Just an observation...

  37. The district is partially responsible for the mess we are in with the budget. Here's why:

    In June 2009 the district passed the most recent budget. Four months earlier the state passed an important piece of legislation that severely cut Tier III categorical funding, but it also flexed much of the remaining funding so that it could be used "for any educational purpose". After blowing a hole in the bulkhead they tried to help plug it.

    But SFUSD took no advantage whatsoever from the flexibility, apparently ignoring the efforts afforded to help plug the leak.

    This is what the California State Budget Advisory said in March of 2009:

    "While the fiscal challenges facing districts are immense, it’s
    important that boards consider this flexibility in the context
    of the district’s overall goals for student learning. This issue is
    obviously part of the immediate and difficult discussion about
    the specifics of the district’s 2008-09 and 2009-10 budgets and
    the cuts the district must make. However, the board should also
    have a larger discussion to ensure that the flexibility is used to
    develop policy based on district and community priorities. The
    ability to transfer funds and to administer certain programs free
    of statutory constraints gives the board an opportunity to set the
    direction for the district’s educational program in the context of
    devastating cuts to education.

    What are the board and community’s priorities for
    student learning? How can flexibility best be used to
    support these priorities?
    • What are the alternatives if the board does not take
    advantage of the flexibility? Absent the ability to
    transfer funds from one program to another, what
    action would have to be taken, including how many
    staff would be affected and what changes to the
    program would have to be made to address the nearly
    20 percent reduction in funding?"

    Why didn't SFUSD take action to save us from these devastating class size increases?

  38. 8:43

    IP addresses don't lie.

  39. 8:43, he joined the sfschools list under 6 different "names", all of whom had long conversations with each other, and all of whom gushed and complimented himself about how intelligent he was. It was psycho.
    So it is not an exaggeration.

    But that said, the best thing to do with sock puppets (if you can't ban them) is ignore them.

  40. What 11:10 PM said. Yeah, the unions get generous fringe benefits - in return for below-private sector pay.

    Do you want low turnover for your teachers, police officers, firefighters, so they know their kids and the communities they serve? I do. Then give 'em golden handcuff pension schemes.

  41. Thank you, 10:14. None of us who work for the public sector, at least those of us not in administration, earn more than middle-class salaries, which don't go far in this high cost-of-living city in a high cost-of-living state. The job security, fringes, and prayer of a reasonable retirement are all we have for our years of training and ongoing commitment to your kids. Take them away, drive people out of nursing, firefighting, policing, teaching, and so on, and see who you get to do these jobs. I'm proud to work in the public sector and sick of seeing it reviled (as well as destroyed).

  42. Well said 6:12AM Anonymous!