Back to school in The City: Funds stretched thin

While cash-strapped school districts around the country struggle to find or maintain funding for arts education, the San Francisco Unified School District will have money this coming school year for 14 new elementary art teachers.

Public schools receive most of their funding from the state, but this money comes courtesy of San Francisco voters, who in March 2004 passed Proposition H. The measure sets aside city money for sports, arts, libraries, music and other needs for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Schools have seen significant benefits from the influx of revenue.

“We received a part-time librarian, which made us able to not only open our library, but teach kids how to use the library,” said William Lucey, principal at West Portal Elementary School, which also added a part-time art teacher and other support staff through Prop. H. “Our students are starting to explore new book genres — even the librarians at the public library have commented on it.”

Each year, the school district and The City’s free preschool program receive an allotment, the amount of which increases each year.

For the 2008-09 school year, SFUSD was scheduled to receive $30 million.

Due to The City’s budget deficit, however, the district received less than expected — $22.5 million. Additionally, $6.2 million of Prop. H money that was proposed for first-time spending — from college counselors at every high school to additional salad bars and computers for teachers — has been put on hold so the district can patch its own $10 million general-fund budget hole, according to Chris Armentrout, Prop. H director for the district.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Sandra Fewer, a member of the Prop. H Citizens Advisory Committee and a candidate for the Board of Education. “We think of all the things that students haven’t had, and this sets us back again.”

Since the money for “SLAM” programs — sports, libraries, arts and music — will be reduced from an expected $15 million to $11.5 million, the district may need to “re-evaluate and consider delaying some hiring or perhaps cutting some programs,” Armentrout said.

“There are still more sports, library, arts and music programs than we had before Prop. H,” said Richard Shreves, a former advisory-committee member whose son attends School of the Arts.

“I’m happy about that, but as a parent, I want everything — counselors, technology, more teacher training.”

Although The City reduced the Prop. H allocation for this year, it did provide the district with other funding — $19.5 million from its rainy-day reserve — to help the district fill its budget shortfall. For that, Board of Education member Norman Yee said he is grateful.

“Our budget situation was falling apart,” Yee said. “But I hope this is not a permanent thing and we can get back on the path that we wanted, in terms of spending Prop. H money.”

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

City schools continue to benefit from Proposition H funds

Education funding approved by San Francisco voters in 2004 for sports, arts, libraries, music and other programs will support a variety of needs, including:

$2.6 million Physical-education teachers, coaches, athletic equipment and transportation

$5 million Librarians, library books, supplies, computers and online research resources

$5 million Music teachers, arts coordinators, art and music supplies

$763,248 Custodians

$5.4 million Student-to-student peer counseling, violence-prevention programs, counselors

$793,000 Student health centers

$968,110 Academic support for students

$575,000 Translators for non-English-speaking families

By the numbers

55,497 K-12 students

$565 million Annual expenditure

$58,496 Average teacher salary

3,800 Teachers

1,157 Classroom aides

126 Counselors

42 Librarians

104 K-12 school sites

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

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