Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hot topic: Town Hall recap

This from a reader:
What were the highlights from tonight's Town Hall?


  1. I was at the town hall last night and was glad I went. It was incredibly well organized and had a HUGE turn out. I was motivated by just sitting in a room full of such a group of parents. As we all know the main problem we gathered to discuss was the budget shortfall and how we could try and get the money our students need and deserve. The panel brought up topics most of us know well, closing he loop hole in prop 13, getting rid of 2/3 majority, extending term limits, restoring the vehicle license fee, parcel taxes etc. I also heard some new ones such as a proposed 1% entertainment ticket surcharge that will fund arts in our schools.

    I did find in the end the audience started to vent their anger when it was opened to questions. I think it would have been better to only use the pre-submitted questions so that we could have been spared some of the rambling and angry finger pointing. I don't mean they did not have good points, only that I found it was not very productive. This is of course only my opinion...

    I found the most important thing I took home was that we may be motivated here, but we need to motivate on a state level to get things changed. Not all communities are as energized as we are, and that needs to be changed. We need to start a movement.

    I left feeling both sadness as to the dismal state of our school funding, and also feeling highly motivated to do something to change it. The pure number of parents there, and their dedication to our public schools, makes me really believe that we can change the way our schools are funded.

  2. I also attended last night and one thing I think we should all remember and focus on in terms of building a statewide group is to reach out to everyone, whether they are involved in public education or not.

    Although public education benefits us all as a society, we need to focus on the fact that changing these structures (2/3, prop 13 loophole, term limits, etc.) will postively impact not only education funding, but healthcare, mental health services, police and fire, state parks, all of our social services.

    Now is an opportune time for us to all stand together united, instead of being shunted off to our respective major concerns. If we are united it is likely we will be successful in bringing about reform. This is a good argument when trying to engage those who may not see their direct benefit from public education (and some just don't see it).

  3. Just to be clear when we are all discussing and promoting these points ...

    All of these were imposed as part of Prop. 13:

    -- The 2/3 supermajority requirement to pass the state budget

    -- The 2/3 supermajority requirement to pass a local parcel tax

    -- The limits on property taxes on corporate-owned property (described here as the loophole)

    Also imposed as part of Prop. 13 was a 2/3 supermajority requirement to pass a local bond measure, and that was reduced to 55% by Prop. 39 in 2000. So that's an important point to recognize for various reasons, including (this is crucial) debunking the notion that Prop. 13 is untouchable, the "third rail." That has already been proven wrong by Prop. 39, and is becoming even less and less true. I think we're close to the tipping point -- when DEFENDING Prop. 13 will be the "third rail"!

  4. I too was there last night. I agree with June and Beth, the long term solutions look promising and we need to band together to get these measure on the ballots. Thank you to the Moms that put this together, well done, and inspiring.

    I think we need to focus on the immediate problem as well and get the governor to retract his budget cuts to CA schools. We just need a platform to use to get his attention, and many, many parents to speak their collective voices. One platform I could suggest is the Governors Committee on Educational Excellence, this is a non-state employee committee that the Governor chartered to examine and advise him on CA schools.

    I have left an email at the above address voicing (that's funny) my concerns and encourage other parents to do the same. Then I encourage those other parents to encourage everyone they know, parent or not, to send them an email.

    I don't know if that will help, but it can't hurt. See you all at Civic Center on the 4th of March.

    Ben – Father of 2 children not yet in public school.

  5. I need to add that 'm totally blown away and appreciative of the moms who put that event together.

    Upon reflection, I wanted to add a little more about the notion of dismantling Prop. 13. One of the panelists last night used the term "third rail" -- whichever it was was wrong and needs to be disabused of that notion.

    OK, please bear with me: In 1978, same year as Prop. 13, there was an initiative on the California ballot proposing limiting cigarette smoking in workplaces, an outrageously radical notion. The California Labor Council OPPOSED the proposition. (My young, innocent self wrote an earnest letter to the head of the Labor Council, John Henning, about the need to protect workers' health, and he kindly wrote back explaining that the limits would mean people would be confused about whether they could smoke at basketball games.) The proposition was crushed like a butt in an ashtray.

    Later, from '82-'84, I had a job where I had to sit in a constant cloud of cigarette smoke, the closest source being one co-worker. This otherwise nice guy sneered at anyone who asked him to please hold his lit cigarette on the far side of his desk, and his behavior was the accepted norm at that time. In Nov. '84 I took another job at a startup; the startup started getting shaky, and after 1.5 years there I went back to the previous workplace, in May '86. By that time, the smokers were relegated to the parking lot and the office was smoke-free. So sometime in that 1.5-year period -- November '84 to May '86 -- the tipping point occurred. And again, the notion had been unthinkable in 1978.

    And needless to say, that happened despite the might of the tobacco industry.

    My 19-year-old, a poli-sci wonk, told me about the Overton Window, a concept in political theory. Anyone interested enough, Google it and then you can see why it's NOT set in stone -- not true at all -- that Prop. 13 is untouchable.

  6. As I pointed out in other posts, the budget crisis stems from the state, but was exacerbated by SFUSD's failure to repurpose the categorical monies made flexible. I realize that this little bit of education finance is not common knowledge, but people need to get educated on this subject if they really want have oversight and accountability. The Superintendent wants to shift all the blame to the State. This is, in part, a smokescreen.

  7. Gee, thanks, Don... now that you've educated us [again], maybe you'd like to elaborate on how this knowledge can be put to practical use.

  8. It would be relevant if SFUSD were uniquely in this situation due to its singular missteps. But the crisis has been ongoing, and building up steam, in every district in California for 32 years.

  9. S9:

    The biggest barrier to parents becoming a force for change in schools is the need for training in education finance, Ed Code and data analysis. The lack of training is what creates the administrative culture that does not accept parents as equal partners in decisionmaking. Even though the law says they are.

    The Board already lost the opportunity to make the necessary changes for this year. That cannot be undone. But at the very least, we can make sure that it does not happen again through our vigilance.

    There is a lesson to be learned if you want to learn it. If you don't want to learn it and prefer to think I'm being a snob, go right ahead.

    I will tell point blank that with only a few exceptions, most people who are commenting on this blog have limited knowledge of the issues. I don't think that makes them wrong at all. It is just a limited perspective.

    Caroline has also commented about this to me and hopes as I do, if I understood her correctly, that SF Kfiles can be for forum for developing a greater understanding of education issues. That is never going to happen if people are close minded and snide.

  10. The turnout at the Town Hall Meeting was staggering. It was quite moving to witness and be part of a united voice of such magnitude. I applaud the efforts of the participating panel, the mothers from Sherman Elementary and all of parents who showed their concern and support by attending.I hope it will prove to be the beginning of a strong grassroots movement in SF, rather than an isolated historic moment.

    I was quite disheartened to see this meeting become a platform for divisive politics and Republican bashing. It seemed that some of the panelists were unable to discuss the issues or possible solutions without inserting silly, overused cliches and bitter caricatures of the leadership in Sacramento. Believe me, I'm not a fan of our Governor, but some of the remarks were counter-productive and almost childish.

    What we came to hear and what we would like to be a part of, are creative solutions. California is a state that is globally recognized for it's innovative thinking. There are ways to get things done that are quite removed from the standard political process.

    This is our time to not just recover but to reinvent. My question to our leadership is one of action rather than reaction. We are all here and ready to help.

  11. Caroline, some districts cut costs earlier because they were not drinking the rainy day elixir and going to sleep on the job. I had a discussion with someone at the CDE on flexibility implementation yesterday. The Administrator's lobby wanted more district control and they got it with SCX3_4. That does not mean they all used it wisely. SFUSD is a perfect example. But it's true at this point that it's water under the bridge. But the lesson has its value even if it was taken on the backs of our children.

  12. What districts would you say prepared themselves for the crisis better, Don?

  13. Caroline, at the risk of over posting I will answer your question. According the CDE Budget Office, the great majority of districts used the flexibility based upon anecdotal info from a manager I spoke with. I called them back for the purpose of answering your question specifically, but the CDE won't give out names as a matter of policy. But they said that the general consensus from all the questions and paperwork is that districts across the state jumped at the chance to use it, of course. It was the superintendents' lobby that pushed for it. Just out of curiosity, I put a call into the CFO at LAUSD. As you might expect I will be waiting until hell freezes over for an answer. But maybe not.

  14. Wait, Don -- you can't name any districts and it's all anecdotal, but anecdotal about districts that you can't even identify? You heard somewhere that some unknown districts did things right?

    Well, thanks for sharing.

    That said, this microscopic view is not the issue; it's the big picture over the past 32 years.

  15. Caroline, you don't have to get snippy. Didn't we just converse about the merits of civility when agreeing to disagree?

    I agree that Prop 13 is the problem. But SFUSD is also a problem when they fail to act according to best practices policy.

    I cannot give you an analysis of over 1000 district budgets. But the experience of the CDE, ACSA and Transparent and other organizations tells me that very few districts failed to heed the warning. In the words of CDE manager, Carol Bigham -"I'd be surprises if 3 districts didn't use it."

    What I see going on here is party loyalism run amock. This willingness to overlook the failures of the budgeting policies of SFUSD is the same mentality that led the Board to overlook their responsibility. That is - lack of accountability.

    Parents went to the town hall wanting accountability. When I tell them here on SFKfiles about the factual history (in other posts) running up to the budget adoption last year, they immediately want to kill the messenger. Why do you think Rachel doesn't respond to these allegations as a frequent poster here?

    What happened with the flexed money here is SF is matter of fact. When I tell you that I have confirmation from credible sources about what happened in other districts, instead of peaking your interest as a parent and journalist in potential travesty, all you can say is "thanks for sharing"?

    Unless my contention is absurb and false on its face, don't you think that the possibility of the loss of millions of dollars in potential CSR funding is worth considering? -for the sake of our kids and for getting it right?

  16. Don, in general, i think just about everyone has been in denial about the bankruptcy of this state. Even at school over this past year, I seem to have been one of the very few that has been(hello?)concerned about the parent group spending funds for extras like it was a regular 'ole year. (Um, should we conserve and prepare?) Am I right? How can anyone read the papers over the past year and think that grave cuts weren't inevitable?

  17. Don,
    Pink slips, larger class sizes and, program cuts happen to school districts during recessions. This is nothing new! Oh my gosh!!! This recession is particularly bad and California happens to be in a major crisis (And, yeah, many people are pointing their fingers at Prop 13).

    Here is my prediction (based on the fact I started teaching in the last recession): If the economy gets worse this upcoming year, there will be even more cuts next year. If the economy picks up this upcoming year, it will be a very slow process to reinstalling what is being taken away this year.

  18. Don: Just how is Carlos Garcia responsible for California spending half per pupil as the state of New York?

    I am not saying SFUSD has done a good job with the miniscule crumbs they've been given.

    I'm saying our focus should be on making sure the state can raise the kind of revenue it needs to properly support education... and making sure state legislators prioritize education and get penalized at the ballot box for making disproportionate cuts to education.

  19. Marivi,

    You are asking me this question:

    Just how is Carlos Garcia responsible for California spending half per pupil as the state of New York?

    I never said that nor did I imply it. In fact I specifically said in several posts that the larger forces are the root cause of the SFUSD deficit, but that SFUSD exacerbated the problem through inaction. This is not exactly a nuanced distinction. I'm saying that some of the worse aspects of the cuts may have been mitigated had they done a better job of heeding the advise that was given them by the major institutions involved.

    As a result, at our school 3 teachers will be laid off. They are the lowest seniority teachers and some of the best. The point I was making is that some of these layoff were avoidable had the Board acting judiciously in response to the crisis.

  20. Don, You seem to know what you are talking about with the State level stuff. As you posted, I am clueless to the inner workings of the edcode, edfund, and other beurocrap.

    The end point of the town hall meeting was to find solutions to fund the budget gap, long term, and let Sacramento know that we won't accept the budget as currently proposed in the short term.

    You seem like an asset if you are willing to assist in getting the word out and pointing us clueless people in the right direction. I hope that didn't sound too snippy...snooty...or snotty.

    Also, I my previous post I mentioned the Governors Committee on Educational Excellence...which I finally found out doesn't exist anymore. But, a couple of people we could reach out to are Ted Mitchell Pres of BOE (who was chair of the defunct committee), and Bonnie Reiss, who was just appointed Secretary of Education by the Governor (Sec of Ed makes $175K.).

    Thanks for the enlightenment, and lets try to move forward and get people acting on this.

  21. Everyone talks about Prop 13 and the lack of education funding in general. But there is another major structural issue which is rarely discussed. Ironically, this is the issue of the inequity that came about as a result of Serrano versus Priest, a case that resulted in equalizing the revenue limit funds across California's school districts - the Serrano Band of $350. Districts with the greatest number of high cost students and/or with high labor costs do not get a differential with this equalization. And Categorical funds do not compensate adequately for the additional needs. Sound like San Francisco?

    Read a partial summary of "Getting Down To Facts":

    "The Serrano limits on variation in revenue
    limits were an attempt to equalize
    per-pupil funding levels among districts.
    Revenue limits do not address
    the issue of variations in educational
    costs based on student characteristics
    or labor costs.
    Categorical aid programs partially
    offset the high costs associated with a
    concentration of student disadvantages,
    but they do not come close to a
    full accounting for these costs. Nor do
    these programs account for crossdistrict
    variation in the wages needed
    to attract high-quality teachers.
    As a result, the authors conclude,
    districts with high concentrations of
    poor students or of English learners—
    and districts in high-wage labor markets—
    do not currently receive enough
    funds to reach the same API targets as
    other districts."

    The Serrano case was viewed as a major civil rights victory because it prevented property taxes from benefitting districts disproportionally. But the differences in costs have never been adequately accounted for.

    To complicate the picture, it is well documented that Categorical programs are far more expensive to implement and lead to significant bureaucratic ineffeciencies, resulting in greater relative losses for those districts with larger Categorical budgets.

    This situation has created somewhat of a conundrum for education. Districts with low concentrations of high need students do not want to further subsidize high need districts with more categorical funds that would require either lowering the revenue limit or increasing taxes, in a zero sum game. And using the parcel tax tool to offset state funded revenue limits can lead to the same inequities that created Serrano in the first place - taxation that punishes low income areas disproportionally.

  22. M,

    Here is a number you can call for help - 206-8125.