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Difficult decisions part of annual budgeting process for S.F. schools

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District officials are facing difficult trade-offs in order to increase teachers’ salaries while addressing the needs of San Francisco’s most vulnerable students. (Courtesy photo)
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The school year is almost over, and just like many of our students, we have a big project due: our entire school district budget. By July 1 each year, all California public school districts have to submit their budgets to the state.

HOW IS A BUDGET MADE?

Putting a budget together is a thoughtful process, filled with conversations with parents, staff, students and school board commissioners. It requires poring over our data — everything from test scores to attendance rates to parent survey results — and coming up with a budget that reflects what students in the San Francisco Unified School District need most.

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WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM?

Most of the money for public schools comes from the state. Unfortunately, California funds its public schools at a much lower amount per student than nearly every other state in the nation. Fortunately, a couple of years ago, California made a big change for the better in how it funds school districts. So we’re creeping up from the bottom.

The Local Control Funding Formula is a way of distributing money that provides a basic foundation for all students — and extra support for students who need it most.

It starts with a standard dollar amount per pupil, and then adds more money for students who are still learning English, living in low-income households or are in foster care. So two school districts with the same number of students will most likely receive different funding, depending on the characteristics of the students they serve.

For example, a district with a large number of students who are still learning English will receive a few more dollars than a district in which almost all children speak, read and write English well.

WHAT’S GOING ON NOW?

I’ll be blunt: We have some tough decisions to make.

First of all, here’s what you already know: It’s expensive to live in the Bay Area. That’s why we’ve increased teacher salaries by 15 percent over the last three years and are offering another 11 percent over the next three years. We’ve also teamed up with The City to provide teachers more support to find affordable housing.

And that state funding I told you about?

It’s not increasing as fast as the costs of running a school district. In particular, our contribution to teacher retirement costs is mandated to go up exponentially.

Basically, we are facing difficult trade-offs in order to increase teachers’ salaries and improve how we teach all our students, while at the same time addressing the needs of our most vulnerable students.

We are discussing these very things at our school board meetings as we finalize our 2017-18 budget.

For more information on scheduled meetings or to learn more about our budget, visit www.sfusd.edu/budget.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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