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SFUSD: From Shortage to Surplus

Superintendent, Board Come Together to Solve Budget Crisis

By B Rock

Difficile est satiram non scribere.

Acting together, in a spirit of collegiality and togetherness, the seven San Francisco Board of Education commissioners, the two student delegates, and the superintendent have just concluded an astonishingly successful weekend in which a projected budget deficit of $16 million has been turned into a surplus of over $50 million.

The story behind this turnaround is almost as extraordinary as the results themselves.

It began when the ten individuals agreed to proceed together to a weekend retreat at a mansion on the Farallon Islands. An eleventh person was to join them after their arrival. In fact, a series of eleventh persons made the journey with spectacular results.

Upon arrival, and in the spirit of getting in touch with each other and their feelings for and about their compatriots, Alan Wong suggested a group hug. After some initial shyness, all participated and felt so refreshed by the exercise, that they immediately proceeded to tackle the SFUSD budget problems.

First up was school closures and/or consolidations.

Jason Wong began by suggesting that Malcolm X be removed from the closure list. Eric Mar seconded that emotion.

In her own quiet and non-judgmental way, Jill Wynns gently pleaded with Wong to search for a school to replace it on the closure list.

It was then that Eddie Chin had a brainstorm and came to the rescue. He suggested instead the closure of Sir Francis Drake school.

"But that's the same site," exclaimed Dan Kelly.

Mark Sanchez responded: "Wait just a moment. Let's keep an open mind and proceed with some caution here. Consider all positions with reasoned equanimity, as is my custom. I think Eddie is on to something, as he usually is. We have spared some sites, like Luther Burbank, because they share campuses. And in the case of DeAvila, we are leaning towards closing DeAvila yet leaving Aim High in existence in the same building."

"So, you mean we could close Drake, but leave X in existence on the same campus?" asked Sarah Lipson.

"I'll support that motion," exclaimed Norman Yee.

"Sounds like you're ready to vote," chirped the superintendent.

And they did so, immediately, before anyone could change their mind. It passed unanimously.

Buoyed by their initial success, they moved on to other schools on the list.

"Ben Franklin has too much community support," said Lipson. "Can't we find another school to close in the same district?"

"Certainly, my dear," cooed Wynns tenderly. "I think we must instead close Polytechnic High. We'll all miss Poly, especially Carol. But we simply have to bite the bullet."

That also passed unanimously.

"I have an idea," said Mar. "We need to respect diversity. At the moment, we have too many schools to close in District Five. Let's spread the pain."

"Instead of closing two small schools, let's close one larger school," suggested Yee.

"In that case, I make a motion that we close Dianne Feinstein Elementary," exclaimed Chin. "After all, the people in that neighborhood love diversity. They would probably prefer Golden Gate and DeAvila for their children."

Dan Kelly, still not quite in the swing of this new spirit of working together dissented thus: "But that school isn't even open yet".

"Even better," replied Sanchez. "That means there will be less moving costs, since there are not yet desks, tables, bookshelves, etc. to transport."

Again the motion passed unanimously.

At this point, the superintendent began to take a more active role, which, as always, was welcomed by all present.

"Let me get staff involved in this process," said Ackerman. "I'll get Dave Goldin from Facilities out here right away. Everything he touches turns to gold."

And sure enough, by the end of the day, Goldin had contacted the Nibbi Brothers, who, being noted philanthropists, had agreed to build three more schools so that they could immediately be closed, thereby saving the district oodles of money.

Now the dynamic group of ten turned their attention to the question of bringing money in, rather than simply cutting spending.

Kelly began: "You know how we get federal money from No Child Left Behind for providing the military with the information to contact and recruit our high school kids? That's a great program. Well, there must be some way to do more of that."

Sanchez chimed in: "That's a fantastic idea, Dan. I love the way your mind works. I've been thinking for some time that the military has been ignoring the increasing Latino population in San Francisco. Maybe we could get them to call it El Navy or something."

"Wait a minute," broke in Ackerman. "Our new COO, you know, the one so generously provided by downtown business interests, Donel Bianchi, I think he used to work for the Navy."

"Let's get him out here," exclaimed Lipson.

"Yes. Anybody who has the backing of the business establishment can certainly be a great help to us," explained Mar.

Ackerman: "Done. Although I fear I've been working him awfully hard recently."

When Bianchi arrived, Yee tried unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh: "He's so small," he snickered.

"What did you say?" asked Chin. "You said 'small,' didn't you? That's IT. Norman, you've already got economic support from the city for universal pre-school. Well, they are not part of NCLB funding. We can allow the military to sign our smallest children, our pre-schoolers, to recruitment contracts that will take effect when they turn 18. Then the feds will give us more money."

"Yes," added Wynns. "I've heard about them doing that with 14 year olds in Iowa. And they pay a bonus up front."

Bianchi, happy to have helped, returned to the mainland to begin crunching the numbers.

Next to visit was Sherri Lansing, from United Artists Pictures. By the time negotiations were over a few hours later, the district had every single remaining dollar needed to make up the deficit, in the form of an advance on a contract, the result of one of those "only in California" movie deals that you read about.

Seeing the obvious good relations between board members and the superintendent and mindful of the success of the remake of "Guess Who" ('s Coming To Dinner), Lansing agreed to another of Chin's ideas, to star Mar and Ackerman in a gender-switching remake of "Get Smart," starring Ackerman as Ackx (tag line: "I told you not to ASK me that") and Mar as 99 1/2 (tag line: "This just won't do"). Esther Casco will be cast in the role of "The Chief," and the picture will open with Ackx and 99 1/2 in the chief's office, the chief behind a desk stacked to the ceiling with piles of requested informational documents. There will also be a reprise of the role of Hymie the Robot. His name will be changed to Rhymie though, and he will not speak, but rap, although entirely in iambic pentameter.

It was early leaked reports of this deal which incorrectly persuaded local newspapers to report that Ackerman was going to take a vow of silence. They had actually overheard her commenting on the "Cone of Silence," which will be prominently featured in the film.

As Lansing left, contract in hand, she suggested another visitor to the superintendent: "You know this advisory committee that we are both going to serve on well, Jose Huizar, the president of the Los Angles School Board is on it also. Why don't you have him fly in and see what you can cook up as a way to approach the governor?"

They did just that.

And after a brief meeting, Huizar and Ackerman agreed that to simply accept the positions on the governor's Advisory Committee On Education Excellence at a time when the governor was withholding Prop 98 funds would be a huge mistake.

"Jose," Ackerman pleaded, "I'm going to ask you to please not do this. Arnold is sinking like a stone in the polls. His rating in the area of education is down near 40%. He's just using us to legitimize his stance on withholding funds by picking this time to put us on a committee that will only meet once a month and won't make any proposals for two years."

Huizar acceded to Ackerman's plea for support. Had he not done so, she might well have been forced to quit. When he left, allied with the superintendent, it was to speak to the editorial board at the LA Times. Ackerman contacted the Chronicle and then called the governor. Arnold flew directly to the island.

And by the time they were done, Arnold, having noted the united attitude of the board and the superintendent, had announced that he was indeed freeing up the $2 billion, which meant $69 million in additional Prop 98 funding for SFUSD next year.

Whether it was Ackerman's tough stance, coming from the strength of knowing that the board was backing her fully, or it was Schwarzenegger's realization that a refusal to serve would hurt his chances in the largely minority inner city districts, as opposed to white suburban districts where they could more easily make up for the cut in funds, Arnold's decision to release the $69 million has solved the budget problems entirely. Reportedly, he is now in negotiations to play "Rhymie."

I can now report that the ten have returned from their retreat, full of good feelings toward each other and secure in the knowledge that together, there is nothing they cannot accomplish. They returned this evening by boat. During the long journey, Eddie Chin spoke at length about how the relationship between the board and the superintendent was like that of a captain and crew on a ship. At great length.

Next up: Mar and Ackerman seek a better deal on future pension funding for teachers. The stock market being somewhat in a state of freefall currently, the two intend to visit Bay Meadows together with great regularity. They will sit in the upper deck, but it is as yet unclear just who will bring up the race card.