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Budget for Schools

By Kim Knox

“But it is an egg. It's in our nest," said Mr. Bird. "If an egg is in your nest, you sit on it and keep it warm. It doesn't matter whose egg it is.”

— P.D. Eastman, Flap Your Wings, 1969

The school district is looking to reduce its budget by $16 million to meet a projected deficit. But the cuts appear to send mix signals on its priorities.

Last week, the San Francisco Unified School District's Budget and Business Services Committee was given a list of recommended budget cuts prepared by the superintendent's senior staff.

The first proposed set of cuts targeted the Special Education Department. The staff explained that it was going to incorporate measures to "early identify" students who are being mistakenly described as needing special education services. Placing these students in more appropriate classes would not only help them to reach their potential but would also reduce the amount of funds that the school district needs to invest in special education. Since special education services require additional expenditures, reducing the number of students in special education classes would save the school district funds.

But then SFUSD's senior staff got to the Child Development Center's budget. Child development programs are for four year olds who will enter kindergarten next year. The senior staff recommended cutting all four of the district's social workers who work with SFUSD's pre-schoolers.

Now, let's take a step back. When is the best time to "early identify" behavior or learning challenges in children before they become obstacles to learning in the classroom? Education manuals agree that the time is pre-school. Ergo, this is one of the reasons that we have pre-school programs — in order to give children the tools that they will need to thrive in kindergarten and elementary school.

If pre-school is the best time to "early identify" behavior and learning challenges, who are the people most likely to identify these problems and figure out creative ways to tackle them? That's right — the social workers in the pre-schools!!

But all four social workers who currently work with SFUSD's pre-schoolers will be gone next year. So much for early identification — and helping pre-schoolers thrive when they enter into kindergarten.

Part of the problem is a disjuncture between what the public wants and what the senior staff and the administration of the school district want.

The school district's administration complains about "encroachment." Webster's Online Dictionary defines encroachment as "entry to another's property without right or permission."

But the school district defines encroachment as expenditures that are not fully reimbursed by the federal and state government. The district complains that special education, pre-school, nutrition, and transportation are "encroachment" items in the school budget, because state and federal funds do not cover all of the costs of these important services to our district's scholars.

In 2004, San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly against the current federal and state Republican administrations. The average San Francisco voter has repeatedly made it very clear in the voting booth that he or she does not agree with our current Republican president and our current Republican governor on war initiatives, taxes, energy policies, and yes, education.

Instead of cutting “encroachments,” we should be proud that the district's policy is to provide more funding for special education, pre-school, nutrition, and transportation than the Republicans want to invest in our future leaders.

But if we are to keep investing in special education, pre-school, nutrition and transportation, where do we find $16 million? Here are some ideas, for your consideration:

— Cut the superintendent's housing allowance. Let's be honest. The superintendent is the highest paid individual within San Francisco's government, with an annual salary of $250,000. She does not need an additional $4,000 per month for housing.

— SFUSD is shutting down four schools and planning to lease at least two of them. Have the administration move into the district’s empty space at 135 Van Ness and into Golden Gate Academy (or SOTA) and lease the building at 555 Franklin. It's a good building in a good location — the district could get a good deal of rent for it. And since there is already space where the administrators can go, they might as well use it.

— Do we really need three assistant superintendents for elementary education?

— Do we really need a public outreach (aka public relations) department with a budget of $400,000?

— Cut the school district's travel budget. According to the superintendent's Form 700, all of her conferences and meetings throughout the country were on the district's dime. Cut the superintendent's travel to one trip per year and let her pick up the rest if she feels a need to get to a meeting.

The district's budget officers appear to have forgotten the purpose of the school district — to teach children. By cutting people who actually work with students in the classroom and keeping people who spend most of their time in the offices at 555 Franklin, they are sending a message to parents, teachers, and children about their priorities.

And it isn't the children.