Funding that could help the San Francisco Unified School District avoid hundreds of layoffs is being “held hostage” by Mayor Ed Lee, according to state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.
In what has become a yearly ritual, the district handed out nearly 500 pink slips for teachers and staff last week.
Since 2005, the district has consistently relied on The City’s rainy-day fund to help save such jobs and balance its budget. But this year, the mayor said he wants the release of the money to be conditioned on the district creating a plan to stabilize its budget by drawing more revenue from its surplus properties.
Ammiano, a former teacher, School Board member and city supervisor, devised the charter amendment that created the rainy day fund, which was approved by voters in 2003 with the aim of avoiding “significant” teacher layoffs and decreases in the per-capita funding for students.
Every year, the district is eligible to receive up to a quarter of the existing fund, which has dwindled significantly to $25 million from a high of around $120 million in 2006, according to the Controller’s Office. The district has received around $60 million since 2005. The City also uses the fund to fill gaps in its own budget.
Ammiano argues that The City’s charter doesn’t allow any strings to be attached to the rainy day fund in the manner suggested by the mayor.
“The charter doesn’t do that, it’s not contingent on that,” Ammiano said. “In fairness to the mayor, maybe he misspoke. You cannot hold the school district hostage with surplus property.”
The relevant section of the city charter says the Board of Supervisors and the mayor release the funds “in their discretion,” possibly debunking Ammiano’s contentions. Either way, Lee’s spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the district has agreed to work with Lee on the surplus issue, so the process has advanced beyond any bickering.
“We’ve been working with the school district,” Falvey said. “We’re beyond rhetoric like that.”
On Tuesday, Ammiano’s successor on the board, Supervisor David Campos, called for a hearing on the condition of the fund in reaction to last week’s comments by the mayor. Campos said while the surplus issue should be addressed, it should not trump the fund’s essential purpose.
The mayor has said in the past that a shuttered school site in the Mission District could be converted to workforce housing to help teachers and police officers afford to live in The City.
On Tuesday, School Board members said they are open to discussing how to better manage surplus sites, but they regard it as a long-term process that shouldn’t involve selling the property, in case future school population spikes. Falvey said the mayor wasn’t necessarily suggesting the properties should be sold.