Monday, March 1, 2010

Hot topic: Your schools' budget cuts

This from a reader:
I'd like to hear how individual schools are dealing with budget cuts.


  1. Kate/Amy -- I've got a question kind of related to your question. We've heard fairly consistently that the cuts are going to increase class size -- I think the last Superintendent report is projecting K and 1st grade classes at 22 and 2nd and 3rd grade at 27. I get how SFUSD is going to bring the K and 1st grade classes up -- this year's kindergarten classes are at 22, so they'll just keep that going for first grade and fill K classes to 22. But how are they going to increase 2nd and 3rd grade class sizes to 27? Is the District going to accept new enrolles via transfer applications to those grades to fill them up to 27? Just trying to look for a silver lining here -- We've got a transfer application for our kid for third grade and are wondering whether it might be easier for him to get into the school with this class size expansion.

  2. I have a friend who teaches at a small, low-income school in a low-income Bay Area district outside SF. She said her principal is considering turning the school into a charter, because the state Board of Ed provides about $450K for startup costs (or the costs of going through the process, if that's not the same thing). So the principal would be doing this just to snag those funds. I know that the state BOE has offered those funds for years; I haven't confirmed independently that it's still happening.

  3. The short answer is split grade classes. The district will likely be able to fill some spots with transfer students and new enrollees, but you also have to look at the capacity of each school site. If this year a school has three 2nd grades with 20 students each, it’s difficult to imagine that next year there will be 15-21 new kids coming into the 3rd grade there to raise the classes to 25-27. Something else to keep in mind is that the schools need to be able to accommodate still larger class sizes at the 4-5 level. If they have three 3rd grade classes with 27 students in each, that means the next year they’d be looking at two 4th grades with 40-41 students each - or more split grades. (I’m not sure what the absolute cap on class sizes it, but I think it might be 40 at the 4-5 level. If someone knows, please post that info.)

    The thing people seem to lose sight of is that the whole reason for raising class sizes is so that the district can reduce the number of teachers it has to pay. Not because they think there are so many people out there clamoring for seats in SF schools.

    As for K class sizes, we’ve been told to expect K classes to go up to 24. Primary grades are slated to go up to 25-30, but that number hasn’t yet been set as far as I know. If there is a silver lining, it’s that the district has said they will not allow schools to create split grades from K classes.

  4. Caroline,

    The California Department
    of Education administers
    the U.S. government’s Public
    Charter School Grant Program.
    This program provides grants
    of up to $450,000 for start
    up charter schools. For
    more information, visit the
    department’s web site
    at: http://www.cde.

    The amount of work involved in starting a charter is gargantuan. I doubt a principal would take that on for the sole purpose of snagging funds. In any case, s/he would have to get the community behind her to get the process going. I believe these grants are over for the upcoming year or they end by the end of March if i recall correctly.

  5. @7:28:

    When did SFUSD make that comment about split grades involving Ks? They did say that they would not be creating additional Ks at a school site using waitlists, I understand, at the SSC Summit.

    They also announced tentative class sizes 24:1 at K and 27:1 K-3, with larger classes (than we have now, and they are not CSR grades) for 4 - 5.

    However, I think that it is important to remember that these numbers keep changing, are subject to negotiation with UESF, and count on the state financing becoming no better. THIS IS NOT YET TRUE. (Among other things, California will need a waiver from Arne Duncan to get the Governor's plan okay'd, UESF has not presented its membership with a plan and scheduled a vote, etc.)

  6. I called up the CDE and asked about this a few years ago when I learned that the backers of two charter schools proposed for SFUSD had gotten those $450K grants. Both schools fizzled and never opened.

    While it's undoubtedly a huge amount of work to actually open a new school, the question is what does the potential grantee have to do or show just to get the startup grant (which they don't have to return if the school never opens).

    But I don't really know the answer. I just know that's what my friend told me her principal was discussing.

  7. To 10:11 - the info about no K split classes being allowed was passed on to us at a staff meeting. What kind of waiver would CA need from Duncan? To keep us in the running for RTTT money? The numbers we saw in our site budget were pretty grim, and even though they aren’t set in stone there doesn’t appear to be a lot of hope that we’ll get through this without losing staff. That's because the per student funding is being cut. I don't have the numbers here to quote, unfortunately.

    I am curious about UESF’s role in approving cuts that effect them (furlough days, suspension of sabbaticals, freezing step increases, etc.). If they refused to approve those cuts, where would that leave us?

    What I'd really like to see are the details of the administrative/central office cuts. The district needs to be a lot more transparent if they want anyone to feel this is being handled in the best way possible.

  8. @10:56: The Governor's budget proposal depends on a waiver to allow the state to (very short version) get away with counting pre-funding and changing some gasoline taxes into "fees" (thereby keeping them from being part of the General Fund from which Prop 98's cash amount is determined).

    The Governor needs these gimmicks. Otherwise, the financing proposal does not meet the terms of taking stimulus money last year for education. If the waiver is refused, it's $850 million back to schools. There is an organized campaign to encourage the federal Department of Education to refuse the waiver.

    According to the SSC Summit, class sizes above 22:1 will require negotiation with UESF, and any contract changes (salary freezes, no sabbaticals, furloughs) will require a proposal. UESF's membership will then vote for or against the proposal (UESF has said it will be an up or down vote).

    SFUSD has stated that if UESF were to refuse the contract negotiations, there is no way to create a budget and the district would be subject to state takeover. I think though that if the district did follow through on its layoff list and decimate its staff (including a lot of high-level district office employees who are listed), it would be able to budget. I am not saying this is preferable to contract changes, just that I am not sure that a no vote means financial apocalypse.

    I agree that SFUSD seems very unwilling to specifically document its proposed cuts to Central Office spending. It's very frustrating, especially since SFUSD wants major concessions and layoffs.

  9. 6:08, I’m a little confused. You say that UESF has to agree to class-size increases, but you also say "that if the district did follow through on its layoff list and decimate its staff (including a lot of high-level district office employees who are listed), it would be able to budget". Isn’t this contradictory? How can the district lay off the hundreds of teachers that they are planning to pink-slip without raising class sizes? There won’t be enough teachers. Am I missing something? Thanks.

  10. At our middle school, we have the double whammy of an increased enrollment which will lower our percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students so we lose our Title I funding (instead of 56% of students, it'll be 53% of students.) This will cost us an almost $200,000 hit to our budget. Some of this will be offset by the increased enrollment, but what always miffs me is that those same disadvantaged students are still at the school, and now the money went somewhere else.

    The summary from our SSC meeting yesterday: If no changes to the staffing, we have $75,000 to run the school of over 1000 kids. This is about $250,000 less than last year's budget. We're expecting that several staff that get funded from the central office will have their positions eliminated - this includes a social worker/violence prevention staff and one of our three counselors (be warned, central office cuts DO affect school sites!)

    We have a lot to look at - our PTA doesn't raise much (about $20,000) so I think there are opportunities there.

    But the whole think is awful. Both of my kids will be in middle school next year. I've been happy with the staff - generally very dedicated group that loves the middle school age student.


  11. @6:47:

    Sorry for the confusion - too long sentence. But in essence: yeah, more or less.

    The layoff list includes a lot of administrators, including most/all Asst. Superintendents. Their salaries are far higher than a teacher's. Also, in the event that the union refused the class increases and layoffs went through, SFUSD could then rehire new, cheaper teachers at a later date - potentially, WAY later, after the budget picture is clearer. Consolidation and bumping could probably cover reduced class sizes after layoffs, anyway (since this is a K-12 district and CSR only impacts K-3, you could theoretically move 4th-8th teachers down without a lot of credential mismatch).

    So yes, I think it's possible. The layoffs LAUSD just voted to consider are pretty clearly targeted to union concessions, and I don't think SFUSD's are pure in thought and deed, either.

  12. I'm an SFUSD teacher. I definitely don't understand the intricacies of the budgeting process, nor do I (or anyone) know what UESF intends to do at this point. However, I do think some of the speculation as to the actions of SFUSD and UESF seem a bit spurious.

    The huge entity we always refer to as "SFUSD" is actually a ton of people all working like crazy to steer a school district through some pretty tumultuous budgetary waters. Even though SFUSD can be a very difficult employer, riddled with problems, I think "SFUSD" (e.g., all those people who chose to work in education) really has the students' best interests in mind. SFUSD is likely desperately trying to make these cuts as painless as possible. For their part, UESF is made up of teachers who are acutely aware that we are going to be asked to make painful concessions in order to save some jobs.

    There's no conspiracy here. Just a district trying desperately to stem the bleeding, and a union of panicked teachers trying desperately to save their jobs and still maintain a living wage. There are only losers in this process, as all of the communications I receive from UESF and SFUSD very clearly state.

  13. I am also a teacher in SFUSD.

    I don't think that looking over budget numbers and considering possibilities is spurious. At this point, I am also tired of the dissonance between SFUSD's rhetoric and SFUSD's action. For all the many well-meaning and dedicated folks at the Central Office, the decisions they make are inequitable.

    We are supposed to be "Beyond the Talk": reflecting on practice at all levels and honing in on how to best serve our underserved students.

    Yet SFUSD has chosen to implement layoffs that will disproportionately affect high-needs and hard to staff schools. This is not speculation based on the fact that layoffs typically impact such schools worse than others: it is fact. How are these schools supposed to go "Beyond the Talk" when they can anticipate yearly upheaval? What message do we send to students and families who cannot expect a stable, cohesive staff? What kind of equity-driven climate can be created and shared by a staff that changes drastically every year? What is the impact on morale for the community at these schools who need it most?

    I am not saying it would be easy for SFUSD to make the financial and contractual negotiations necessary to go "Beyond the Talk". But I am saying that equity means doing things that are hard, and it would not have been impossible for SFUSD to proactively plan to protect high-needs schools.

    Moreover, if we believe that the administrators who make up "SFUSD" are truly partners in educating all of San Francisco's children, it is our responsibility to take them to task when they don't. That may discount individuals at the expense of seeing the administration as an institution, but unfortunately, it is that institution that has failed to live up to its rhetoric.

  14. 9:54, I’m not sure that you understand the UESF contract, or the budget process. SFUSD has very little ability to lay off “expensive” teachers early in the process, then rehire “cheaper” teachers later. The cheapest teacher we have are also the newest teachers, and they are the ones who will be laid off first. Teachers who do not have tenure (those in their first two years of tenure track employment) are guaranteed a “right-to-return” for one year after they are laid off, tenured teachers are guaranteed that right for two years. The right-to-return means that these laid off teachers are given the first opportunity at any jobs for which they are qualified that open after the layoffs are finalized, and they are rehired at the same salary step and on the same pay schedule that they would have been had they not been laid off. They don’t start over, and no candidates new to the district are even allowed to be considered until all of the qualified internal candidates have been given the opportunity to take the positions.

    Again, I do not understand your math. Our school has two 4th and two 5th grade teachers - how could we possibly move one of them down to cover a consolidated K-3 position? There are already 33-34 students in each of our 4-5 classes, and we’ve been told that if the class size increased go through we should expect that in 2011-12 4th grade will go as high as 40, or more likely there would be a 3rd/4th split class. (If 3rd grade is raised to 25-27 this year, the next year there would be 75-81 4th graders.) Aside from this, does anyone think it would be a good idea to move 6th-8th grade single subject teachers down to primary grades? Their credentials will only permit it if they have multiple subject credentials, and few middle school teachers I know have any desire to teach young kids. To be fair, few K-3 teachers I know would want to teach middle school - the differences are vast.

  15. To 9:15 pm -- I'm not getting your math here -- You said you are losing $250,000 and will only have $75,000 to run a middle school of 1000 kids. Did you mean $75,000 -- or $750,000? The cuts can't be that bad, right?

  16. Caroline -- since I see you are commenting here and since I know you have expressed interest -- concern? -- about the impact of the assignment system's change at the middle school level, can I raise an issue with you. I am a fourth grade parent and NONE of my parent friends have a CLUE that this reassignment system change is going to impact middle school assignments at all. All the upper elementary school parents seem to think that this is just going to impact K admissions. Now I'm a bit of a partisan here as I think parental choice has kind of worked well at the middle school level. But I'm not asking you to take sides. Can we just try to get the message out to upper elementary school parents about this change? I've tried posting about this on Rachel Norton's blog, but without much success. I also get the feeling, in my humble opinion, that the Board is also not focusing on the middle school impact much, and that the changes are being driven by the Superintendent for cost-cutting reasons. I get that, but at least current parents in the upper grades should have clear warning that major changes are coming. Don't you think?

  17. 9:47, is your concern that the new system would limit choice? It's a really good question.

    My basic view has been that because it's not that difficult under the current to get into a desired middle school, only a system that RIGIDLY forced students into their neighborhood middle school would pose a problem. But I admit I haven't paid close enough attention to the specifics for middle school to be aware if there are aspects of this plan that would make it tougher. It sounds like the immediate problem is that you don't feel like you have an avenue for getting your questions answered! Have you talked to anyone at PPS -- Vicki Symonds being the usual contact?

  18. Carolne -- thanks. I haven't checked with PPS. But I have been following Rachel's postings. If you scroll down Amy's website to the latest Rachel update on the new assignment system, you'll see that the middle school assignment system is quite strongly neighborhood preference. That is, right now (with one caveat I'll mention below), neighborhood preference trumps EVERYTHING -- even sibling preference. In fact it is stronger than the elementary school neighborhood preference. Now you'll also see on Rachel's blog's response to comments that the Board may put the CTIP1 preference ahead of neighborhood for middle schools (it hasn't done it yet), but CTIP1 has been really narrowed to very specific areas of Bayview/Hunters Point, Vis Valley, Tenderloin, Western Addition and the Mission. (Again, you have to look at Rachel's blog -- there's a new map that shows this recent contraction.) Anyway, the way I'm reading this is that lots of families on the eastside of the city that have been populating middle schools like Hoover and Aptos may be precluded from going to them. (Now again this depends on the neighborhood maps and on what middle schools the city designates as "citywide", again all somewhat complicated.) The short of it is: (1) I don't think upper elementary school parents know this is coming and (2) it is, at least as currently configured, potentially quite a contraction in what has been a parental choice system; and (3) with all due respect to Rachel and the Board, I don't get the feeling that THEY are focusing on middle school -- this is kind of like an add-on that is being ignored. And on this last point I'm very worried that this is potentially going to undue a lot of good things that have happened at schools like Aptos and Hoover, without really benefiting anyone, including the pro-neighborhood crowd which, at least as I've heard them, are really only talking about K assignments, not 6th grade assignments.

  19. If I'm understanding it correctly, this would only be an issue if these schools were oversubscribed. Back in the bad old days, middle-class families generally considered only Hoover, Giannini and Presidio acceptable, so those schools were oversubscribed. When we first applied, 2002, it was still considered daring to choose (or accept) Aptos. Roosevelt seemed to be on the same trajectory, and James Lick just a couple of years behind.

    But when Aptos, James Lick and Roosevelt joined the list of popular/acceptable schools, that took the pressure off. Now Everett, Martin Luther King, Marina and Francisco are on the "acceptable" list too, which should ease the squeeze even more. (Any that I'm not mentioning, forgive me, but I'm not trying to be PC.)

    If a school isn't oversubscribed, it's my understanding that access wouldn't really be a problem no matter how the preferences are changed.

  20. The comments are getting off the budget and back to the assignment system. But I will say- the only reason the assignment system is an issue at all is because of oversubscription. This defines the problem. It's the tipping point.

    The middle class have enjoyed choice because it has allowed more capable and persistent parents to get the school they want with a little effort. If spots are filled with more SES kids the chance of obtaining those spots will decrease, especially if everyone gets a default neighborhood assignment. But who rightfully should get first shot at an assignment, the persistent one or the one with the greatest need?

  21. "the only reason the assignment system is an issue at all is because of oversubscription."

    This is true, and my point is that the elevation of several middle schools in popularity means that oversubscription is no longer much of a problem at that level -- at least at this point in time.

    Low-SES students already have had preference due to various elements of the most recent and previous processes. It's not that middle-class kids have been acing them out; it's that there hasn't been much of a problem with oversubscribed middle schools in recent years.

  22. I think it is less that I don't understand budgeting but that I have been through this process before.

    YES, seniority holds (although layoffs impacting senior employees are fairly rare). HOWEVER, SFUSD has also already placed advertisements to build a teaching candidate pool for 2010-11.

    Not everyone will be able to wait and hope they will be reemployed. SFUSD has a highly educated teacher corps, and many people in it will be highly competitive even in a tight job market and even outside of education. Layoff notices are demoralizing and frightening. So overall: I believe that some more highly paid teachers will leave and SFUSD will replace them with new teachers.

    Also, SFUSD is sending school site budgets to schools and creating a budget based on current budget assumptions and the idea that the Governor's proposal is what will be passed. Similarly, they are projecting average daily attendance for next year. The budget is NOT final, and the projections have been wrong before.

    So the scenario I propose - which has happened before - is not fanciful. It is simply unpleasant. Given SFUSD's utter lack of transparency and unwillingness to confront their inability to go "Beyond the Talk", I do not feel it is unduly negative.

    Clearly you disagree. That's fine.

  23. Caroline,
    I understand your well taken point.
    It sounds like you are making a case for why neighborhood middle schools should be generally acceptable. Maybe SF choice experiment should be seen in retrospect as a way of preparing the way for San Francisco's diversified neighborhoods to return to a neighborhood school model.

  24. I'm not making a case for MANDATORY neighborhood middle schools. At the time we were starting middle school, that would have been an outrageous (social) injustice, for one thing, because one set of middle schools (basically the westside schools) had an arts/music period in the curriculum, with full band and orchestra including loaner instruments -- and another set didn't. That has changed somewhat.

  25. 5:07, from the SFUSD jobs page:

    “As a result of the current budgetary crisis, certificated hiring is extremely limited. Although you are welcome to apply at any time it is unlikely we will be hiring outside of high needs areas: special education, math, science and bilingual education (BCLAD) for the remainder of this school year.” They are not taking applications for substitute teachers at all.

    The teachers who get lay off notices will be first, second, and third year teachers all on the low end of the pay scale, maybe some 4th year teachers, too. Their replacements’ salaries, if indeed they are laid off and later replaced, will not be significantly lower than what is being paid out now.

    I don’t think you are being unduly negative, if anything I don’t think you are being negative enough. Class sizes are going to be forced up, some very talented (though less senior) teachers are going to lose their jobs, and high-needs schools are going to suffer the most.

  26. Regarding questions about class size increases, I overheard a couple of parents asking Miyong the same question at the SSC summit. His answer was split classes.

    My interpretation is that a school's 3-1st classes of 20 kids and 3-2nd classes of 20 will now be 1 1st class of 24+/-; 1 2nd class of 24+/- and one split 1st/2nd class of 24+/-. And so on.

  27. 8:17 I think you are exactly right. If you do the math and follow the numbers up to 4th grade, a school that now has 3 K classes, three 1st, three 2nd, three 3rd, and two 4th grade classes will next year have three K, two 1st, one 1-2 split, two 2nd, two 3rd, one 3-4 split, and one 4th grade. A school that now has a total of 14 teachers for the K-4 grades will only need 12 teachers next year. That's a lot of people out of work, and a lot of money saved. Is it worth it?

    What's scary is that very few of the teachers (or parents, or anyone) I know have bothered to do this math and understand how much upheaval we are really talking about. At my school people are acting like we're going to get additional students to fill the increased class sizes, without a serious thought about where these students are going to come from. If they transfer from other schools, what happens to the schools they transfer from?

  28. There are no schools closing and the increased class sizes do not come about as a result of transfers, at least for the next year. It is not clear how big K will be as it is hard to tell what the affect of these cuts will be on the thinking of K parents re: public education.

  29. We have been told to plan for 20 additional students (K-5), but I don't understand where they will come from. Are parents really going to transfer their children to a new school? What about the schools they leave behind...

  30. Caroline -- I'm not sure that scarcity is not an issue in the middle schools. And, forgive me for being non-PC, but while some middle schools have improved (Marina, Aptos, Lick, Roosevelt), others have significant problems. So the neighborhood and CTIP1 folks will fill up the good middle schools and those of us on the (non-CTIP1)eastside of the city are going to be forced to go to middle schools with serious problems. To boot, some of the turned-around schools I listed above, may become more segregated (definitely Giannini and Presidio, likely Hoover as well). I was involved in an elementary school that turned itself around over the past six years so I know what it takes. And I have to say that I am leery that a school like Horace Mann or Denman (our most likely neighborhood schools), with very large classes, can be turned around. And while you are right that there are more middle school options now that have some form of music/arts/sports, there are still major discrepancies between the offerings of the middle schools, not just in those areas but also in the areas of honors vs. gen ed. Some middle schools split them up (Hoover, Giannini after sixth grade, Roosevelt), some don't (Aptos and Lick). So I do think there is a problem here. I'm also just surprised that neighborhood preference is now the strongest at the middle school level. It makes no sense to me. Anyway, it seems to me that SFUSD is hellbent on going this way. It just seems to me that parents are losing a lot from the loss of choice at the middle school level without much discussion.

  31. @ 1:18

    I entered the lottery for 1rst grade, thankfully, before all of this budget mess became public. I'm hoping there are fewer in the pool than there would be otherwise.

    We'd be transferring from a private kindergarten. I'm hoping for immersion, since my child has been labeled a target speaker. But I don't know how many 1st grade spots will open up if they're going to be doing split-grade classes. Can anybody hazard a guess as to our chances?

    Even with the budget cuts we're willing to jump in because of the language component.

  32. I can't guarantee that scarcity will never become an issue in middle schools. But the trend for as long as I've been paying attention, which is many years now, is for scarcity to become a smaller and smaller issue year by year, as an increasing number of middle schools rise in success and popularity. This is a long-term trend. Far, far fewer middle schools have significant enough problems to be a deterrent than was the case 8-10 years ago. If the well-thought-of middle schools are not oversubscribed, there's no reason that eastside families will be "forced to go to middle schools with serious problems." That just seems unnecessarily pessimistic.

    Many -- not long ago -- said that Aptos and James Lick could never be turned around, so I wouldn't be so quick to accept that about other schools. But that said,because very few families are having trouble getting into the middle schools they choose, it just doesn't seem like panic is necessary.

    By the way, Aptos (where I was a parent 2002-'08) has a separate honors track; James Lick doesn't. I have quite a number of friends with GATE children who were and are happy at James Lick.

    Also, there ARE still discrepancies between middle school music programs, but all do have sports programs. The schools with the thinnest programs are the K-8s, because of the small number of students in their 6-8 grades.

  33. Caroline, you said that very few families are having trouble getting the middle school they choose. Are you referring to the first choice or one of the seven choices?

    As far as the historical disparities between programs, do you know what is the cause of this? I wonder if schools that need more remedial services are using their funding in that fashion rather than to have enrichment programs. Under WSF and with TI and CompEd underserved schools have more funding. So why are some still not offering a more comprehensive curriculum?

    Thought you might know.

  34. Thanks, Caroline, for your response. Maybe I am being pessimistic, but my concern is that -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- the turnaround at Aptos and Lick happened during the period of parental choice in assignments. That's the nut of my concern: parental choice is kind of working at the middle school level, why mess with it now? And the response I hear from the District is that the reason they are instituting a strong neighborhood preference at the middle school level (more than at the elementary level) is because they are going to have to cut all the buses with the budget cuts. Now I understand that there is a serious budget crisis, but I'm just kind of astounded at the mindset. I'm told that the District doesn't feel comfortable telling 12 year olds to ride Muni. Apart from the fact that such is already happening (see what happens when the ocean-bound 48 stops at Hoover), it just seems a little bizarre. The District still says it wants diversity; the diversity is going to require some type of transportation; ergo, someone is going to have to take transportation. Why make it harder for parents who are willing to have their kids travel to middle school to actually get into those out-of-neighborhood schools? But the District (so they tell me) also feels that they can replicate the experiences at Aptos and Lick to Horace Mann and Denman by pushing eastside middle class families into those schools with this new assignment system. And my response to that is (1) the Aptos/Lick turnaround happened during a time when parents were not being constrained to their neighborhood schools; don't assume it will happen with neighborhood schools; and (2) turning around a school -- particularly some of the eastside middle schools with large grade sizes is going to take time and is quite complicated -- it is not a "wham bam" kind of thing. The parental choice system kind of worked because it "gave the process time." You know, some middle class families started going to Aptos; they spread the word; others came and saw and liked; they went; and on and on upward. Pushing middle class families into Horace Mann and Denman may work or it may not. The grade sizes at these schools are huge. At an elementary, a middle class family sluter of 20 can have an impact; at a Horace Mann, 20 kids is a drop in the bucket. See what I mean?

  35. SFUSD cannot cut all transportation without losing Title One funding, which they would not risk. T1 requires and partially pays for transportation for students that opt out of Program Improvement schools. This is mentioned in the Superintendent's proposal. You cannot mess with it. And of course, once you have buses running, it is not cost effective if they are not full.

    Because most schools are improving, middle or otherwise, it is not at all clear that this is due to parent choice or due to a myriad of other factors as well.

    The Public Policy Institute's study of San Diego showed no improvement related to choice itself. Maybe SF is different but the study was very disconcerting for choice proponents. The head of the Institute wrote a forward to the study results which said, in reference to choice, "proceed with caution."

    I am personally in favor of choice, to the extent that lotteries provide it, but we have to constantly take an objective look at our results. Does SF's marginal out-performance have to do with its choice asssignment system or with the high concentration of asian students, or a combination of both?

  36. My response to the argument that "we don't know what made these middle schools better" is to ask: why fix something if it ain't broke? At the elementary school level, despite my personal disagerement, I can understand the motivations of those who want more neighborhood schools. Yes, I can see that, with five and six year olds, life is better for the family and everyone if their school is relatively close. I can also see the pro-diversity clans" concerns about elementary schools in the city. Yes, I do think that some schools during the parental choice period increased one-ethnic group percentages more than they would be with neighborhood schools. But these arguments don't wash at the middle school level. Twelve year olds are comfortable traveling distances (either in their parents' car or via MUNI). And I don't think that the city middle schools have seen a resurgence of one-ethnic group predominance. To the contrary, diversity has increased at Aptos, Hoover, and Marina. Yes, there are diversity issues with the far eastside middle schools and far westside middle schools. But I think they've always been like that. One of my co-workers has lived in SF all his life and he says that, literally from the time Denman was built, it has had a heavy poor and African-American population. On the far westside, I don't think there's much that can be done to change the fact that AP Giannini will always have a high percentage of Chinese. Parental choice or neighborhod schools, AP Giannini will remain pretty much as it is now. So the real question is not -- can Denman soar?; can AP Giannini no longer be such a high percentage of Chinese? -- the REAL question is: will this radical change in assignment system undue the examples of positive change (both along pro-diversity and pro-academic performance lines) that have occurred at Hoover, Aptos, Marina, Lick and Roosevelt? And I think the answer (with the possible exception of Lick) will be "yes." So, why do it?

  37. What I'm saying is that very few families are having trouble getting their first-choice middle school. But it's still not that big a deal for most if they don't, because so many are fine with their other choices.

    You're exactly right here: "I wonder if schools that need more remedial services are using their funding in that fashion rather than to have enrichment programs."

    I was appalled when we were first looking at middle schools in the 01-02 school year to discover that the westside schools had an elective period and students could choose band/orchestra/art (and more) -- as part of the curriculum -- while eastside schools simply didn't have that. When I asked about it, I learned that under pressure to raise achievement, lower-performing schools had taken the elective period and devoted it to remedial academics. The only way to remedy that would be to add a seventh period to the middle school day, which is way out of fiscal reach.

    It's true that the turnarounds at Aptos and Lick happened during the period of parental choice in assignments, but largely because more families in their assignment areas started choosing them. Just in my immediate circle are three families in walking distance from Aptos who sent older kids to Giannini or Hoover and then chose Aptos for the younger when they felt it had improved.

    There isn't all that much district busing to middle schools, and I haven't heard all that discussion, so I don't know how to respond. A couple of buses run from the Mission to Aptos, but there's not busing for anyone else (except disabled students) that I'm aware of. Many middle school students take Muni, and I've never heard of anyone at the district saying the district should run more buses to prevent that. That entire discussion isn't making sense to me -- is it scuttlebutt? Because if it is, it doesn't seem valid.

    No one predicted the turnarounds at Aptos and James Lick, which by the way were quite rapid -- a school with a three-year grade span turns faster than a school with a six-year grade span, for one thing. When my son started Aptos in 2002, Giannini, Hoover and private were the paths of choice for other Lakeshore families (though we talked some into joining us). When my daughter started Aptos in 2005, Aptos pickup time looked like Lakeshore pickup time, and her one Lakeshore friend who went to Giannini complained that she didn't know anyone.

  38. ...continued:

    I would also note that we don't even know if those middle schools got "better." At heart, they may not have changed that much. Families started looking at them with a more open mind (I talked a number of families from Lakeshore, and a friend from Clarendon, into giving Aptos a try), and then they started attracting more higher-SES students.

    No, I don't think a change in assignment system will undo the positive change (both along pro-diversity and pro-academic performance lines) that have occurred at Hoover, Aptos, Marina, Lick and Roosevelt -- because so much of the change has been about neighbors deciding not to flee them.

    The funny thing is that I'm not an advocate of mandatory neighborhood schools, because I think that's an unjust system that limits the options for the most disadvantaged families and gives the most privileged access to already-successful schools. And it's plain to the naked eye, as Anon notes, that a huge number of our schools have soared under the all-choice system -- whether correlation equals causation is unknown, but still.

    But that said, I still don't think future middle school families need to freak out, because there has not been a problem in recent years with difficulty getting into the middle school of your choice, so being shut out seems unlikely under any system (unless it was an absolutely mandatory neighborhood system). But also, it's really not true that turnarounds have to take such a long time -- I was right in the thick of it and this is a firsthand report from the scene.

    I was also close to Balboa families when Bal was turning around, for that matter -- really during the same period. It was still viewed as scary when my son was starting 9th grade in fall '05 (he went to SOTA, but Bal was his second choice); now I meet parents coming from private K-8s who are happily sending their kids to Bal.

  39. Caroline -- The busing cost issue has been raised by commenters on Rachel Norton's blog and in the Super's recommendation statement. I agree with you that I am entirely puzzled by this reason. The thinking is that, with buses mostly out, the District can only do parental choice at the high school level because only 9th graders are old to be really put on Muni. Nevertheless, I think you raise a valid point -- there will probably be enough seats at middle schools to give those of us, like me, on the eastside of the city a shot at getting into one we like. We will see if we can get into a school other than our neighborhood middle school. But because of that uncertainty I am going to look at privates -- something I had no intention of doing up until this redesign. Before I heard about this redesign, we were basically looking at the pros and cons of Aptos, Hoover, Lick, and Giannini and figured we had little reason to look private. But with the uncertainty introduced with this change I am going to look at the K through 8 Catholic schools, which we at least can afford. And I do hear you that some of the improvement at Aptos was made by families going in the immediate surrounding area, but I know three families on my block in Bernal who are going there -- so I don't think the only explanation for the improvement is neighborhood-area middle school kids going to it. And I do worry that one result of this redesign is to lead to even more segregation in the middle schools on the westside of the city.

  40. "The thinking is that, with buses mostly out, the District can only do parental choice at the high school level because only 9th graders are old to be really put on Muni."

    Well, that's not in touch with reality, since middle-schoolers take Muni all the time. (When my daughter was at Aptos, the drama class did a really cute skit about Aptos students at the Muni Metro stop waiting for the K after school in different eras -- '40s bobby-soxers, '60s hippies, '80s valley girl wannabes etc.) There's only very limited busing, for desegregation/diversity purposes.

    If you're even discussing the arts that (luckily) remain in the middle school curriculum, IMHO it would not make sense to look at Catholic schools, which are badly lacking in that area. They're not as bad as they used to be (in my era, the amount of arts/music in Catholic schools was ZERO, period paragraph), but they don't hold a candle to the middle schools that have the arts elective.

  41. Sorry, this sentence was a bit unclear:

    "There's only very limited busing, for desegregation/diversity purposes." I refer to district-provided yellow buses. There's only a small amount of district-provided busing for middle schools, and it's for diversity purposes.

  42. Caroline, thank-you for pointing out that there is very little district funds going into yellow buses at the middle school level. So why the big change from choice to assignment area schools even at the middle school level?

    How about these explanations?

    1. We are so broke, we could not even afford the little bit of money spent on yellow buses at the middle school level. People are getting laid off. Compared to that, middle school parental choice is a luxury.

    2. Muni is not safe for 6th graders. We are all on notice of that after the series of Muni attacks by that one disturbed person, who did attack a 6th grader and others.

  43. But if the district is already providing very little bussing at the MS level, they won't save very much by eliminating it entirely. And it's pretty hard to justify this cut with their overarching goal of increasing equity and achievement. Sounds like maybe other cuts would be more sensible.

  44. 7:33--Since so little money is spent for yellow buses at the middle school level, what justification is there for this big change at the middle school level?

    Maybe the answer is twofold:

    (1) the school district needs to fund that bare essentials, first, of having adequate staff to run the schools, before spending money on maximizing choice of schools. The unions are not going to give us cocessions if we are still spending money on luxuries like parental choice (luxury means no jobs at stake).

    (2) the school district does not want to be seen as recklessly assigning 6th graders to far away middle schools when there is a Muni safety issue. We want some mechanism of shortening the Muni rides, and that means attendance area schools even at the middle school level.

    I do not speak for the school district. I can not say these are their reasons. I am saying attendance area schools for middle schools is reasonable and here are some reasons. I will also say that there is nothing wrong with having one or two ciywide middle schools, perhaps Hoover and Aptos.

  45. Questions about class size: Sorry, I looked and couldn't find this specific topic! last year there were a few schools who maintained 20/class for K. What will happen to them next year? At what piont to they join the rest of the district with increased class size?

    Is there any official word on what class size would be next year? I'm assuming they don't know yet.

    Let say this years numbers are 3-K at 22, 3-1st at 20, 2-2nd at 20.

    Next year: 3K at 24/22, 2-1st at 27, 1 1st/2nd split with 9-12 1st graders and 12-15 2nd graders and 1 3 with 27.

    When this years K classes get to 4th grade, there will be 60 to split and so class size will be ~30.

  46. "Since so little money is spent for yellow buses at the middle school level, what justification is there for this big change at the middle school level?"

    Don't know. Also, given that the middle school lottery worked pretty well (90%+ getting one of their picks), you'd wonder why it had to be changed.

    "If you're even discussing the arts that (luckily) remain in the middle school curriculum, IMHO it would not make sense to look at Catholic schools, which are badly lacking in that area."

    K-8 Catholic schools we looked at (9 in all) also were lacking in science, even elite schools like NDV (except St. Brendan's).

    In general, I'd say this went across the board for public, parochial, and private schools: science facilities were pretty dismal, from my point of view having been educated in the U.K. Don't know how science labs are in the public middle schools.

    In the UK, where they divide the schools into primary and secondary schools at age 11, it's usual to have dedicated science labs from age 11: in my school we had a dedicated biology lab plus four labs for physics and chemistry; two of the labs were dedicated just for middle-school age students. I've been very disappointed with science education I've seen in the U.S., but am grateful that with the incredible science museums in the Bay Area that I'll be able to fill the gap.