Tuesday, June 25, 2013

S.F. schools get more funds, but costs not covered

 By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle 

After five years of budget cuts, San Francisco schools will get more money than they got last year, but it still won't be enough to cover expenses, district officials said.

The superintendent's proposed budget of $593 million requires the district to dip $18 million into its savings account to cover cost increases in pensions, health care, teacher pay and other expenses, said Myong Leigh, deputy superintendent.

The school board is expected to approve a 2013-14 budget plan Tuesday night.

A state surplus combined with Proposition 30's tax revenue will mean about $19 million or $380 more per student in San Francisco.

That per-student amount will vary by district because of a new state funding formula based on the number of low-income students and English learners.

While the increase in funding will be a welcome relief, it's not a windfall, said Gentle Blythe, district spokeswoman.

"With this new budget, our schools still are receiving less revenue than they did 5 years ago," she said. "So, we're still paying 2013 expenses with 2007 dollars. So, yes, we're moving in the right direction but we still won't see an immediate impact for students because the cuts have been so deep in recent years. We're just beginning to stabilize."

Still, the increased funding and a healthy reserve fund allows the district to ensure struggling schools have extra staff, which had in some schools been previously funded by a now expired federal School Improvement Grant.

If the board approves the proposed budget, about half the district's schools would get extra positions funded, including social workers, counselors, literacy coaches, assistant principals and nurses, among others.

The other half would also get extra support, but from shared central office staff rather than people assigned specifically to their sites.

The district's budget will also be bolstered by nearly $6 million from the city's rainy-day fund, money the city set aside to help cover budget shortfalls and save jobs.

Yet while most of the pink slips the district sent to teachers and teachers' aides have been recalled, there are still 60 people who don't have jobs for the fall, said Dennis Kelly, president of the teachers union.

The rainy-day fund should be saving those jobs, he said.

"That is a major concern," he said.

District officials said Monday that they expect to recall all but about two dozen pink slips by July 1.

Those teachers and aides that do lose their jobs were largely in positions that have been eliminated, Blythe said.

"We've been counting on rainy-day reserve funds to help us reduce the number of layoffs," she said. "Many of the layoffs that remain are the result of funding lost for specific services and positions due to lower enrollment, for example, a high school elective class that no students are enrolling in or the end of certain grants that funded those positions."

S.F. schools

To see the full budget proposal, go to sfusd.edu.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Duncan lauds S.F.'s Kindergarten to College

1,000-plus families have made investment

June 22, 2013 | SF Chronicle

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was on hand Friday as Mayor Ed Lee announced a milestone in the city's Kindergarten to College savings program to a packed room at City Hall.

The program, which establishes a college savings account for every kindergarten student enrolled in San Francisco public schools, has created roughly 8,000 accounts since it began almost three years ago. Families have invested more than $310,000 of their own money in more than 1,000 of those accounts, the mayor said.

"The key is to have the city commit to every single child," Lee said. "This can transform whole communities, and that's what we want to do."

The city's college savings program is the type of effort that the nation should be looking at, Duncan said.

"This is one of the more unique, innovative, creative ideas," Duncan said. "Kids start thinking about college in their junior or senior years of high school, but by then it's too late."

A panel discussion, also attended by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza among others, focused mostly on the success of the program in San Francisco and how it could be replicated on a wider scale.

The savings accounts, established in the students' names, start with an initial deposit of $50 provided by the city, which can be doubled if the student is enrolled in the free school lunch program. The city will also match the first $100 deposited by parents in the first year. Additional opportunities for matching funds are available, as well as for parents who sign up for a minimum direct deposit.

Much of the program's success is owed to the fact that the accounts are created automatically, said Doug Vasquez, whose daughter, Mia, will be entering second grade at Junipero Serra Elementary in the fall.

"For me, it was a no-brainer," he said. "We'd probably be saving anyway, but this provides a much better avenue."

Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
Education Secretary Arne Duncan hears about Kindergarten to College.

For some families, the Kindergarten to College program has done more than start a nest-egg students can use for the ever-rising costs of higher education. It's transformed the way they think about their children's future.

"It changed the dialogue in our house," said Michael Lan, whose 6-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, will be entering first grade at Lawton Alternative School. "We always intended for our girls to go to college, but it used to be on the back burner and now it's front and center. It sends a message to the next generation. We have to do this together."

But if creating a generation of college-bound students needs a communal effort, it's going to take a community of people who are familiar with financial management, according to various members of the panel.
And it's precisely that type of community that these programs can foster, said Robert Annibale, global director of microfinance and community development for Citibank, who manages the college accounts for the city.

"This is not just about college education - this is about financial inclusion," he said." Lots of parents who bring their children in don't even have bank accounts themselves."

Duncan sat quietly through most of the meeting, nodding occasionally and taking notes as the finer points of the program were detailed. He'll be bringing his recommendations back to President Obama, who has called a college education a "prerequisite to success."

The challenge now will be to figure out how to expand the reach of the program, said San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros.

"We're not stopping here. We have 12 percent saving now, but we have a long way to go," he said. "Let's get it to 50 percent. Let's go well beyond 50 percent."

Friday, June 14, 2013

SF schools pass local hiring policy

San Francisco residents will get dibs on a big share of the construction jobs at city schools, a policy hotly debated and finessed over several months and approved unanimously by the school board this week.

At least a quarter of the jobs in the seven most significant trades must be filled by residents.

The policy, approved Tuesday, ensures that a sizable portion of what locals pay in property taxes to support school facilities will boost city employment, said school board member Sandra Fewer.

"I think this is a historic day," she said. "When the voters voted for a $531 million bond, it is right that they get a portion of those jobs."

The hiring requirements apply to carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, laborers, painters, plumbers and carpeting/linoleum/floor layers.

The policy also requires that half of all apprenticeships at school work sites go to city residents and that the main contractor on each project sponsors two student interns for every $2.5 million of the contract.
By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

The district's local hire requirement is similar to the city's, which mandates that contractors on city projects document that 20 percent of their workers live in San Francisco, a rate that gradually increases to 50 percent by 2017.

Oakland Unified also has a local hire policy, which requires 20 percent of companies, rather than workers, be from Oakland.

Supporters of the local hire policy in San Francisco urged the board Tuesday night to push the policy further and include all trade unions and not limit the requirement to projects worth more than $1 million, but said the policy as passed is a step in the right direction.

While there was no opposition to the policy at Tuesday's meeting, critics of local hire requirements say it's expensive to implement and can push up construction costs. And finding qualified local companies to bid on projects or enough trained workers can be difficult, as was the case in the construction of a library in the Bayview two years ago.

Board members and district staff said they needed to balance the idea of creating local jobs with keeping administrative and construction costs down.

The policy was supported by the San Francisco Building and Trades Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, the San Francisco Latino Democrats, and the Black Leadership Human Rights Council, among others.

It will apply to projects from the $531 million Proposition A bond approved in 2011 as well as work from future bonds.

"This has been sort of a fight to get this through," Fewer said. "We know when we put people to work they are the parents of our schoolchildren."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

School funding shifts under budget plan

Major shift in allocation of money under state plan due to pass Friday

Sacramento --
California's neediest school children will have more money directed to them under a major shift in school funding expected to be adopted this week as part of the new state budget.

School districts with high concentrations of students who are low income, learning English as a second language or in foster care will get extra money, while the state will no longer be able to tell districts how much they have to spend on things like textbooks and small classes.

The plan will be voted on as part of the larger budget, with the Legislature expected to take action on Friday, one day before its constitutional deadline to pass a spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The proposed budget has $96.3 billion in spending through the general fund, the state's main checking account. And because of past budget cuts and the voter-approved tax initiative known as Proposition 30, lawmakers and the governor didn't have to contend with a budget deficit for the first time in several years.

Democratic legislative leaders stood with Gov. Jerry Brown at a Capitol press conference Tuesday, where the governor expressed his support for the Legislature's work on a range of issues in the spending plan.

The positive nod from Brown means that short of a revolt among legislative Democrats to the budget plan - not likely - the proposal should easily pass and be signed into law by the governor.

Brown said the Legislature "got something done that's truly important - a balanced budget, a change in the formula that will strengthen local school districts, help poor kids and kids that have serious language barriers. This is a real step forward."

The governor has made education funding one of his top priorities, as he persuaded voters to pass Prop. 30 largely on a promise of extra money for schools.

Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
Elijah Miller (right) receives the talking piece from Brandon Garcia during a restorative justice exercise at Oakland's James Madison Middle School. The district could get a big funding boost.

But Brown and lawmakers had been at odds over how to direct some of the additional money to the neediest school districts in the state without taking funds away from districts in more affluent areas.

On Monday, a joint legislative committee approved a compromise deal with three main components:
-- It would increase the base amount that school districts get for each student by an average of $537, bringing the statewide average to $7,640, according to the Department of Finance.

-- Students who are low income, learning English or in the foster-care system would be funded at an even higher rate - calculated through a complex formula - as long as their school district has at least 55 percent of students in those categories. This extra cash will be known as a "concentration grant."

-- Districts will get additional per-pupil funding, a lesser amount than the concentration grant, based on the total number of needy students.

To make sure all the money is spent as intended, the Legislature will also require that the state Board of Education create regulations not only for oversight, but to look at whether the changes are having a positive impact on students.

But even with the additional funding, it will take until 2021 to reach the overall goal of restoring per-student funding to 2007 levels, before the economic downturn forced cuts to many programs. Even then, California is still expected to rank low in per-pupil funding compared with other states across the country.

Lingering damage

District officials across the Bay Area stressed that the initial increase will not repair damage done during the recession.

That means parents probably won't see smaller class sizes next school year or axed art programs restored to schools, officials said.

In San Francisco, the district will get $7,313 per student, exactly $300 more each, but also faces cost increases in benefits, pension payments and preset boosts to teacher salaries based on years of experience - expenses that will swallow up much if not all of the increase.

By 2020, however, the state estimates the district will get $11,233 per student.

"In a relative sense, it's great," said Myong Leigh, the San Francisco district's deputy superintendent. "It's the start of something hopefully approaching a rational funding system."

In Oakland, the district will get $7,502 per student in the 2013-14 school year, up from $7,171 this year - or about $12 million more overall.

"This captures the effort to restore a degree of fairness to school funding," said Troy Flint, district spokesman. "Philosophically, we agree with the focus of aligning resources with the greatest need."
By 2020, Oakland Unified is expected to get nearly $12,000 per student.

Some Bay Area suburban districts had raised concerns with the governor's previous proposals, but now say they like the plan.

More money

One was the Dublin Unified School District. Although it has few low-income and needy students, it would get more money under the new, compromise plan than it would have under the governor's original proposal.

"It's fair to say we're pleased and agree with the intent. It's a start," said Dublin Superintendent Stephen Hanke. "Compromise means nobody is really happy, but everybody is satisfied."

Another part of the plan permanently eliminates almost all state requirements for spending in specific areas, like for textbooks, teacher training or incentives for reducing class sizes. Instead, districts would get the money and officials would themselves decide where to spend it.

Most of those requirements were already suspended since 2009 because of the state's budget crisis.

That former system, in place before 2009, was "just convoluted and impossible to understand. It had so many things attached to it," said Dennis Meyers, assistant executive director of government relations for the California School Boards Association.

"We don't see these services going away locally," he said. "What we see is the state doesn't need to tell the districts how to spend the money."

The overall plan does have harsh critics, though.

Bob Blattner, a lobbyist for schools, said that the new funding formulas will still create disparities for needy kids and that the state should have gone further in transforming how California funds its schools.

"If this were just a budget item, no worries. But this could be with us for a generation," he said.

State budget

Other proposals that are part of the budget include:

-- The creation of, over four years, a "middle-class scholarship" that would give tuition and fee breaks to in-state students at the University of California and California State University systems whose families make less than $150,000 per year. When fully implemented, students whose families make less than $100,000 would receive a 40 percent reduction in tuition and fees, and students from families earning just under the top threshold would receive a 10 percent reduction. There would be varying levels of reductions between those points.

-- Taking $300 million from what the state currently provides to counties for public health services as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That number was to increase over the next few years and take virtually all the money, but the budget proposal reduces that, and it does not put any other service responsibilities on counties, which previously had been discussed. Health advocates said they were disappointed, but encouraged that the act's implementation was moving forward.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Step Up eases fear of middle school

Fear of middle school eased with boot camp for sixth-graders

June 9, 2013

For many incoming sixth-grade students, the scariest part of middle school isn't the need to make new friends or the amount of homework from six different teachers.

It's lockers.

How to open them. How to find them. How to put stuff in, get stuff out and get to class in a five-minute passing period.

But for 1,500 soon-to-be San Francisco sixth-graders, that worry was alleviated last week during the district's Step Up program, a weeklong boot camp to get to know their middle schools, meet teachers, figure out where the bathrooms are and perhaps best of all, learn how to use a combination lock.

At Francisco Middle School, for example, 110 of the 150 or so incoming students received a practice padlock and learned the locker dance.

"Three times to the right, two times to the left, one time to the right," said John Yee, 11, demonstrating the dance's wax-on, wax-off circular hand motion.

Did the dance work?

Yes, Yee said, but he has already decided to bring his own lock that opens with a push-button code.
"It's faster," he said.

Rohan Smith, The Chronicle
Teacher Marcie Dobbs talks to students, who meet their teachers and learn where the classrooms and bathrooms are during the boot camp.

This is the first year the district sponsored the Step Up program at every district middle school - expanding it from a pilot program that started two years ago.

So instead of starting summer vacation, the students headed back to class at their new school.

The normally weeklong program was cut to four days this year, Tuesday through Friday, to accommodate a district-wide furlough day on Monday.

Federal and state grants for summer school covered the $160,000 in staff salaries, while the city's Department of Children, Youth and Families paid the $43,000 for various supplies and materials, including workbooks and daily planners to help keep students organized.

Scavenger hunts

During the week, students played games, like scavenger hunts to find the bathrooms, main office and library, and moved from homeroom to math class to language arts class like they will when the real school year starts.

They even had homework.

Rohan Smith, The Chronicle
Above: Seventh-graders Elizabeth Dinio (left), Emily Jiang, Aidan Zhu and David Sonnier answer incoming students' questions.

The program also helped alleviate unnecessary concerns, like the possibility of getting dumped in trash cans by upper classmen, said teacher Marcie Dobbs.

"I kind of get what it's like to be in middle school," said Lindsey Binay, 10.

Yet the weeklong program is about more than lockers and learning to move from class to class.
Students who participated in the pilot programs reported they had made great connections and felt more comfortable heading into middle school, district officials said.

And that can be key to keeping them on track.

"Relationships are just as important as academic rigor when it comes to helping students succeed," said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. "Giving students a good start to middle school can help keep them on track during the critical middle grades, a time when kids face a wide range of peer pressure and often start to feel disconnected from school."

Making connections

The Step Up program ensures that every child knows at least a few adults at the school when the first morning bell rings on Aug. 19.

"Elementary school is so different. They're always so nervous," said Dobbs, a seventh-grade language arts and social studies teacher. "When they start sixth grade, they'll know me."